Friday, December 6, 2002

Parent of UPW
seizes control

The mainland parent will run the
daily operations of the embattled union

By Rick Daysog

Saying it needs to "fix what's broken," the mainland parent of the United Public Workers union has taken the drastic step of seizing control over the daily operations of the embattled union.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees suspended UPW's 34-member board yesterday, canceled the appointment of the union's interim state Director Dwight Takeno and appointed Honolulu labor attorney Peter Trask to serve as the union's administrator.

The move comes after the Nov. 19 conviction of former UPW state Director Gary Rodrigues for accepting kickbacks and embezzling union funds, which has created dissension among the UPW's 12,000 members.

"We have placed UPW under administratorship to restore integrity to the leadership of this union and to ensure that our members continue to be well represented," said Gerald McEntee, AFSCME's president. "When it comes to financial wrongdoing, we have a zero-tolerance policy."

Members of the UPW board said they did nothing wrong to warrant suspension. They said their actions were conducted according to UPW's constitution and were guided by the advice of the union's outside attorneys.

Under AFSCME's bylaws, UPW's ousted board or its executives can challenge the parent organization's takeover. Such a challenge would be heard by AFSCME's judicial panel within 21 days of the complaint.

An attorney for UPW's board declined comment.

Washington, D.C.-based AFSCME said it will run the union's daily affairs until UPW can hold new elections for its officers and board. AFSCME also named local area Director Liz Ho as UPW's deputy administrator to assist Trask.

AFSCME, which lists 1.3 million members nationwide, said UPW members will not see any changes in the benefits and services that they receive. Staffers at the union's Kalihi headquarters and neighbor island offices will not be affected.

Trask, 52, is the son of longtime Hawaii Government Employee Association head David Trask. Between 1992 and 1997 he worked for UPW as an administrative assistant and as Rodrigues' executive assistant.

As a private attorney, Trask has represented UPW and HGEA in labor arbitrations.

Trask said his priority will be to restore the union's credibility in the local community. He noted that the union plans to conduct an audit that will examine, among other things, the hefty retirement, sick leave and unpaid vacation time owed to Rodrigues.

According to Trask, UPW is at a critical period with a new Republican administration taking over state government. He said contracts for UPW blue-collar and institutional units, which represent nearly 10,000 government workers, come up for negotiation on June 30.

"I am here to ensure that any potential assets or property of the union is maintained for benefit (of members) in trust," said Trask.

Larry Weinberg, AFSCME's general counsel, said the international organization decided on Tuesday to take the rare step of placing UPW under administratorship as a result of Rodrigues' conviction and the dissension it created.

Weinberg -- who along with McEntee's Executive Assistant Lee Saunders met with UPW's board at the Hilton Hawaiian Village for more than two hours yesterday -- said the international organization also was concerned about Rodrigues' continued involvement with the union.

Shortly after his conviction, AFSCME suspended Rodrigues as state director but not before he called a special meeting of the union's executive board. During the meeting, Rodrigues announced his resignation, prompting the board to name his longtime supporter Takeno as state director and to suspend state President George Yasumoto.

According to Weinberg, there is a strong sense that UPW members were unhappy with the leadership and wanted major changes. He cited a recent petition by rank-and-file members that asked AFSCME to place the local union into trusteeship and suspend its board.

When asked why AFSCME did not step in sooner, AFSCME's Saunders said the international union had been monitoring the local union's troubles for some time but did not feel that it was appropriate to intervene until Rodrigues' conviction last month.

"Our purpose is to give the union back to its members, fix what's broken and move forward," Saunders said. "Once we achieve those goals, we want to return the union back to the members, and that's where we believe it belongs."

Keith Faufata, a UPW unit officer, praised AFSCME's takeover, saying it will go a long way toward resolving long-standing problems in the union. Faufata was one of the organizers of a petition drive calling for AFSCME to place the UPW into receivership.

Faufata has alleged that Rodrigues continued to exert undue influence over the union even after he was convicted and resigned from the union last month.

"This takes care of nearly everything we asked for in our petition," Faufata said.

Robert Mielke, a member of UPW's executive committee, said board members were disappointed with AFSCME's decision but were expecting it. Mielke believes that the takeover will hurt union members since many important decisions will be made on the mainland.

But Mielke said he was heartened by the appointment of Trask, whom he described as a "hell of a labor attorney."

"We got suspended for sticking our necks out for the members. That's fine because we believe we did what was right for the members," Mielke said. "Everybody is disappointed that we were put into receivership, but we have to move on. Our main goal right now is to keep the union strong no matter what happens."

Past union takeovers

>> Local 5 (Hotel Workers Union) was placed under trusteeship by the union's parent, the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees International, on Feb. 26, 2001. The trusteeship was lifted July 6, 2001. Tony Rutledge filed charges against then-newly elected union head Eric Gill; a new election was held and Gill won.

>> Local 630 was placed under trusteeship by Operative Plasterers and Cement Masons International Association for financial reasons Sept. 3, 1992. The trusteeship was lifted Aug. 23, 1994.

>> Steelworkers Local 5876 was placed under trusteeship Feb. 12, 1996, by United Steelworkers of America. The trusteeship was never lifted because the parent union terminated the union on May 31, 1997, after one of its major employers shut down.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Labor Management Services

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