[ OUR OPINION ]
deserve a clean slate
TAKING control of the United Public Workers union is precisely what is necessary to remove the labor organization from the continued influence of its former leader, whose conduct has unduly stained its membership. Extraordinary as it may be, the move by the union's parent group is appropriate if the integrity of UPW is to be restored.
AFSCME removes the union's board and its officers in the wake of the former leader Gary Rodrigues' conviction.
The unusual action by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees came two weeks after Gary Rodrigues -- who, as state director, held control of the 12,000-member union for 20 years -- was found guilty of 101 counts of fraud, money laundering and embezzlement. After his conviction, AFSCME suspended Rodrigues, but not before he called a special meeting of the union's executive board, during which his longtime supporter, Dwight Takeno, was chosen to replace him. This prompted dissent among some members who petitioned AFSCME to place the union into trusteeship.
AFSCME's suspension of the union's board, its removal of Takeno and its appointment of Peter Trask as administrator clear the deck for its members. Although Trask had worked as Rodrigues' assistant from 1992 to 1997, they should feel some assurance that the respected labor attorney will serve their interests. However, they should keep their eyes open as Trask conducts a financial audit of the union's books, which Rodrigues had been allowed to conceal.
The union is entering an important period with contract negotiations for 10,000 of its members beginning next year. Governor Lingle has promised that no government workers will lose their jobs, but with the state facing fiscal shortages and with taxpayers weary of increasing costs of government, chances for raises appear slim. Rodrigues' conviction and his persistent leverage with the union flows into the public perception of corruption. The union cannot afford to conduct business as usual.
Rodrigues had been a powerful force for labor in Hawaii since becoming the union's leader in 1981. He held positions on panels that advised appointments to the Bishop Estate board of trustees and the state judiciary; he had the ears of political leaders in state and county governments for decades. His continued influence on the union in the light of his conviction was unseemly.
AFSCME officials say they had been tracking UPW's struggles, but did not want to intervene until after Rodrigues' trial was over. Although slow to act, AFSCME has finally done right by union members, but UPW's rank and file should not let their guard down.
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