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Thursday, December 30, 2004
10 WHO MADE A DIFFERENCE:
Labor leader helped
The campaign by the HGEA and other unions was a factor in the Democrats' efforts to unseat five Republican incumbents in the House, reversing GOP gains during the past elections.
The losses of those House seats will make it more difficult for Gov. Linda Lingle to reject pro-labor measures that are approved by the Democratic-controlled Legislature.
"I would say they played a major role in the elections of a lot of candidates in Hawaii," said state House Speaker Calvin Say.
The election results were among several highlights for the HGEA in 2004.
In March the union secured a new two-year contract when an arbitration panel awarded HGEA members a merit-based pay increase ranging from 5 percent to 9 percent.
Lingle vetoed the pay raise, saying it would cost the state $248 million over five years, but the veto was overridden by the Legislature.
Okata had argued that the Lingle administration provided larger raises for other public-employee unions.
Since 1981 the low-key Okata has served as executive director of HGEA, which represents 24,000 city and state workers and another 19,000 retirees and associate members.
Okata's increased visibility comes as leadership in the local labor scene has been in flux. Longtime Carpenters Union head Walter Kupau died in 1999, while federal criminal investigations have led to the ouster of United Public Workers union boss Gary Rodrigues and ex-Teamster and Unity House official Tony Rutledge.
"He's a great leader," Richard Port, former chairman of the Hawaii Democratic Party, said of Okata. "He represents the workers in the best sort of way."