Friday, March 9, 2001
could end his careerThe issue: UPW Director Gary Rodrigues has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of defrauding union members.
Our view: In view of Rodrigues' long record of abuses, an end to his career as a union leader would be welcome.
IN September 1999 Gary Rodrigues was cleared by a hearing officer for the parent union of charges that as director of the United Public Workers he violated the rights of union members. At the time, Rodrigues was under investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Now, presumably as a result of that investigation, Rodrigues has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of defrauding members of his union of at least $200,000 by overcharging them for medical and dental benefits. His daughter, Robin Rodrigues Sabatini, was also indicted.
Rodrigues is accused of arranging secret payments by two insurers to companies owned by his daughter.
Both were charged with mail fraud, conspiracy to defraud a health-care benefit program, conspiracy to launder money and money-laundering. The charges carry maximum prison terms ranging from five to 20 years plus hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
Rodrigues could also be barred from holding any union position, as officer, employee or consultant.
The Star-Bulletin had a hand in the exposure of Rodrigues. In 1998 reporter Ian Lind wrote about Rodrigues' ties to a company that supplied building materials for UPW offices on three neighbor islands. Lind reported that Log Structures Inc., a company headed by Rodrigues, was listed for a decade as the only authorized dealer in Hawaii for Lodge Log Homes, an Idaho-based company that supplied the materials. Lind wrote that UPW officials were required to work on Rodrigues' Oregon home.
In addition, Lind reported complaints by current and former UPW chief stewards that Rodrigues used the union newsletter to attack members who criticized what they termed questionable financial practices by Rodrigues. The complainants charged that they had been denied access to union minutes and financial records, which was in itself outrageous.
The charges were rejected by the hearing officer from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in what appeared to be a shameless whitewash.
The officer made the nonsensical finding that Rodrigues had the right to respond to his critics in the newsletter -- ignoring his responsibility to treat union members fairly. But the federal government's investigators weren't as sympathetic.
Rodrigues responded to the Star-Bulletin's exposure of his misconduct by embarking on a campaign of vilification in the UPW newsletter against his critics in the union, this newspaper and Lind personally. We were not intimidated.
If the case results in convictions, it could end Rodrigues' leadership of the UPW, one of the state's largest unions with 15,000 members, which began in 1981. In view of Rodrigues' long record of abuses of authority, such an outcome would benefit the labor movement and UPW members in particular.
Sharons coalitionThe issue: The new Israeli government of Ariel Sharon is a broad-based but fragile coalition.
Our view: Sharon will offer fewer concessions to the Palestinians than his predecessor, Ehud Barak.
UNLIKE several past Israeli governments, the new one headed by the hawkish Ariel Sharon has more than a bare majority in parliament. In fact, with 73 of 120 members, this is the largest governing coalition in Israel's history.
However, whether the coalition will survive for long is far from certain. In addition to Sharon's conservative Likud, it includes the other large party and Likud's chief rival -- the center-left Labor Party -- and tiny religious parties of the far right, all with differing agendas.
Sharon defeated former Prime Minister Ehud Barak of the Labor Party to gain the leadership after Barak's peace initiatives were rejected by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at Camp David and months of rioting by the Palestinians ensued. They continue to this day, with no end in sight.
Barak accepted Sharon's offer to be defense minister but changed his mind under criticism. However, Labor's Shimon Peres, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his diplomacy in earlier negotiations with the Palestinians, is the new government's foreign minister.
Sharon has not ruled out talks with the Palestinians, but insists that the rioting must end before negotiations resume. As Uzi Landau, the new internal security minister, declared, the Palestinians "have to realize that there is no place for terror."
But some Palestinians have said that the uprising will not end until Israel pulls its troops out of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and dismantles Jewish settlements there.
If that is the case, the outlook for peace is bleak. Israelis elected Sharon because they were disillusioned with the peace process after Barak's offers were met with Palestinian violence. There is a feeling that nothing will satisfy the Palestinians short of the destruction of the Jewish state.
Sharon has shown he feels no urgency about resuming talks. Even if negotiations are restarted, he has said he would seek only a long-term but interim agreement, not the final accord that Barak wanted. This may be realistic because there seems no early prospect of bridging the differences between the Israelis and Palestinians on Jerusalem and Israeli's security demands.
"We're facing a period that's not going to be easy," Sharon said. "There are security risks and diplomatic issues which are far from simple."
Sharon's hard-line reputation stemming from his military career and role as defense minister in a previous government make him an unlikely peacemaker. But so was Menachem Begin, and he made peace with Anwar Sadat. Unfortunately, Arafat is no Sadat.
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Rupert E. Phillips, CEO
Frank Bridgewater, Acting Managing Editor
Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor
Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors
A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor