JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Ron Kozuma, front, newly elected president of the Hawaii Teamsters and Allied Workers Union Local 996, announced new executive board members yesterday during a news conference in Kalihi. From left are Mel Vendiola, Anthony Badayos, Bernard Nunies, Vidal Ranion, Millie Downey and Elena Faleiletoa Paongo.
Teamsters leader vows to be flexible but firm
The new leader of Hawaii Teamsters & Allied Workers Union Local 996 vowed yesterday to concentrate on solving contract negotiations during his term, but warned that he would not be afraid to strike if needed.
"There's a time to pound the table and there's a time to work together -- I think I understand that," said Ron Kozuma, who will move up from the No. 2 secretary-treasurer position Jan. 1 to replace longtime union President Mel Kahele. "But when it's time to strike, it's time to strike."
Speaking to reporters outside the union's headquarters, the 43-year-old former driver for Meadow Gold Dairies asked members to unite and let go of differences created during the election.
"There was a lot of things that were said during the elections, a lot of negative things," said Kozuma, a Teamsters member since 1988. "We hope that the membership understands we have to move forward."
Teamsters Local 996 represents about 6,000 employees in 80 different companies across Hawaii and Guam, including Oahu Transit Services, Inc., which operates TheBus, Island Air, Meadow Gold Dairies, several hospitals, cement workers, truck drivers and other businesses.
Kozuma won the election Saturday, getting 1,076 votes to Kahele's 838.
Kahele's term was marked by a monthlong strike of TheBus workers in 2003. The following year, he 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.
Asked whether he would have taken a different approach to negotiations between TheBus and Hawaiian Cement, Kozuma said only that his team would try to "set the tone" during any future disputes and respect all who are involved in talks.
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, of Maui, was elected recording secretary. They say two contracts that will need to be renewed soon include one with the Handivan Paratransit Service, which is due in late March, and TheBus in 2008.