Union's trustees say assets are secure
A hearing on the sudden trusteeship of Local 368 will be held in 30 days
Assets of the roughly 4,000-member Hawaii unit of the Laborers' International Union of North America appear intact despite signs of significant mismanagement that has spurred an emergency trusteeship, the newly appointed deputy trustee said yesterday.
"Up to right now, we are satisfied that our trust fund assets and benefits to our members are secure," Kenneth A. Casarez told the Star-Bulletin.
An informational meeting was held last night for members of Local 368, while another meeting among trustees was scheduled for today.
The trustees appointed by the union's Washington, D.C., headquarters have been in continuous meetings since at least Monday, when a letter notifying members of the emergency trusteeship was posted on the front door of the local union's headquarters at 1617 Palama St.
A hearing regarding the trusteeship of Local 368 will be held within 30 days, according to Robert Luskin, general executive board attorney and the parent union's in-house prosecutor in Washington, D.C.
Luskin said the union's constitution and federal law mandate a hearing within 30 days before an independent hearing officer, Peter F. Vaira.
"If he sustains the trusteeship, we will continue until we resolve the conditions that resulted in this trusteeship," Luskin said. "It is then up to the office to bring charges against individual officers and members for individual disciplinary actions."
Each of those members has a right to a hearing over the charges, Luskin said. They could face disciplinary actions that include barring them from involvement in the union.
New elections also would be held for the local union's officers, who were automatically dismissed when the trustees took over on Monday.
Local 368, chartered in 1954, has about 3,600 active members in Hawaii, which include workers in the construction, landscaping and health-care industries. It also has about 900 retirees, according to Luskin.
Rocco Davis, union vice president and Pacific Southwest Regional Manager in Rancho Cordova, Calif., was appointed as trustee. Casarez, assistant Pacific Southwest regional manager, was appointed as deputy trustee.
All books and records of the local union were turned over to Davis and Casarez, along with vehicles, credit cards, keys, telephones and pagers.
In a letter dated Monday, the parent union's general president, Terence M. O'Sullivan, said a recent audit of the local union's internal operations revealed "significant mismanagement" of funds.
The letter included the following allegations:
» The use of more than $450,000 in funds by union trustees over the last five years for annual trips to the Philippines to visit retired members.
» The purchase of union-owned vehicles by officers' family members and other staff for less than fair market value, along with costly repairs at union expense.
» The hiring of officers' family members or other favored persons for jobs, bypassing qualified individuals on the job-referral list.
» The failure to receive approval from the LIUNA inspector general for gifts, donations and bonuses in excess of $10,000 or for real estate contracts more than $150,000.
"We have had misconduct involving union assets in the past, and that is a common cause of an emergency trusteeship," Luskin said. "It is by no means a unique situation."
Luskin said members need not be alarmed.
"When the union officers are not operating (the union) as it's supposed to be under the constitution, the trustee is authorized to operate the union," he said. "The whole point is to protect the members."
Having a national or international entity intervene in a local union has happened occasionally in the past, according to Thomas Cestare, officer-in-charge of the National Labor Relations Board.
"Labor organizations have incredible reporting and disclosure items they have to meet," Cestare said. "No company has to do what they have to do. ... These things happen from time to time ... but I think our unions are generally pretty good here. Sometimes people lose sight of what their mission is, and that's when they get in trouble."