Teamsters union picks new leader
Teamsters & Allied Workers Union Local 996 decides to oust labor leader Mel Kahele
Long-time labor leader Mel Kahele has been ousted as president of Hawaii Teamsters & Allied Workers Union Local 996.
Kahele lost yesterday to Secretary-Treasurer Ron Kozuma, who served in the No. 2 position since 1996, the same year Kahele took over leadership of the union, following the death of former president Michael Chambrella.
A sometimes controversial figure, Kahele was not afraid to strike to get the best contract for his members.
He led TheBus workers on a month-long strike in 2003 that stranded bus riders on Oahu and in 2004 took concrete and cement workers out in a strike against Hawaiian Cement and Ameron Hawaii that brought the construction industry to a near standstill for more than 40 days.
Other negotiations have gone to the wire after strike votes had been taken.
Kozuma won by 238 votes, 1,076 to 838. A third candidate, Mark Komomua, received 500 votes.
Kahele said he would help to make the transition for Kozuma and his slate as smooth as possible.
"I was surprised, the whole thing was a surprise, but as a democracy, we'll accept that," he said. "He's been a friend. ... I have no ill feelings. That's the double edged sword of democracy."
Kozuma, 43, has been a Teamsters member since 1988, when he was a driver for Meadow Gold Dairies. He said the election created divisions between the members.
"Now it's time for us to move on, the politics are over, the members have decided. We need everybody now to come together," Kozuma said.
Kozuma's entire slate was also elected: Millie Downey, the current vice president, will be secretary-treasurer; Bernard Nunies will be vice president; and Anthony Badayos was elected recording secretary. The new term begins January 1.
Kozuma and his team ran on a platform touting their past experience with the union and promising to respect and consider all ideas from members.
Kahele had won three previous elections, although in 2000 by just 15 votes.
In the last election, Kahele's opponent, Anson "Slim" Ilae, was initially ruled ineligible to run. But then three days before the election the union allowed Ilae to run after he presented information that he had paid his dues on time.
Kahele won by 118 votes in 2003 and acknowledged that the bus strike had cost him some support.
A small group of union members celebrated the victory yesterday at the union headquarters in Kalihi.
Daniel Lalosin, 36, a warehouseman with the union for 15 years, said he was relieved by Kahele's defeat.
"He wasn't representing employees to the fullest. It was either this or start looking for another job because I'm getting tired of it," he said.
Union members mailed in votes throughout the month of October. A private company counted the votes yesterday, announcing the winner around 4 p.m.
Teamsters Local 996 represents about 6,000 employees in 80 different companies across Hawaii and Guam, including the Oahu Transit Services, Inc., which operates TheBus, Island Air, Meadow Gold Dairies, several hospitals, cement workers, truck drivers, and other businesses.