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About 50 members of a Japanese base employees’ union met Sunday on Okinawa to voice concerns about their job security. The proposed realignment of U.S. forces in Japan is expected to result in the closing of several U.S. military installations south of Kadena Air Base.
About 50 members of a Japanese base employees’ union met Sunday on Okinawa to voice concerns about their job security. The proposed realignment of U.S. forces in Japan is expected to result in the closing of several U.S. military installations south of Kadena Air Base. (Chiyomi Sumida / S&S)

GINOWAN — Concerned that some U.S. bases on Okinawa may be closed due to the realigning of U.S. forces in Japan, members of a Japanese base employees’ labor union held an emergency conference Sunday.

During the two-hour meeting, about 50 Okinawa Garrison Forces Labor Union members, known as Oki Churo, shared their concerns and thoughts.

“If we do not speak up now, the outcome will be disastrous,” said Satoru Higa, the pro-base labor union’s chairman. “The presence of the military on Okinawa is closely linked to employment and the economy of … Okinawa.”

Although Gov. Keiichi Inamine calls for moving Marine Corps air operations out of Okinawa, citing it as the “consensus of Okinawa,” Oki Churo members said not everyone is keen on shutting down bases and moving Marines to Guam and mainland Japan.

“The governor’s call for a reduction of the military presence does not represent our voices,” said Katsuji China, a firefighter at Camp McTureous. “If he is making the demand by misinterpreting our voices, we need to make our stance clear.

“He is about to rob us of our workplaces,” he said.

Takeo Taira, the union’s vice chairman, said the realignment’s economic impact is immeasurable.

“There is not a single person on Okinawa who would not be affected by the reduction in the military presence,” he said.

Communities hosting military bases receive substantial subsidies from Tokyo for bearing the “burden” of hosting the bases. The subsidies would evaporate if the bases close, Taira said.

Taira said the labor union would do all it takes to make sure its members’ jobs are protected.

Oki Churo was formed on Okinawa nine years ago as an alternative to the All Japan Garrison Workers Union, which supports reducing the presence of the U.S. military on Okinawa.

Shinichiro Isa, one of Oki Churo’s founders, expressed a strong sense of crisis.

“When the closure of major military bases — including Camp Kinser — was announced, the local media reported it only once. That was all,” he said.

“They keep focusing on the voices against the proposed revised airport plan on Camp Schwab, underestimating the impact it will have with the closure of the military bases south of Kadena Air Base,” he said.

“The adverse impact of the closure would be disastrous,” he said. “No one in our union should lose his or her job through the realignment. We will make sure our voices reach the prefectural and Tokyo governments.”

“I am so worried about losing my job if Futenma air station is moved out of Okinawa,” said Reiko Shimanaka, who works at MCAS Futenma. “Being a woman and over 40 years old, it would be very difficult for me to find another job.”

Masahiro Tokeshi, a cook at Camp Foster’s Mess Hall, said he was worried because he heard the newest employees would be laid off first.

“I have been working on base only for four years,” he said.

He had an additional concern:

“I am one of the landowners on Camp Kinser,” he said, and his family’s finances are “based on both my salaries and the rent from the military land.”

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