Founder of Wasa Electric helped settle strike
Shigeo Wasa / 1921-2007
Shigeo Wasa built Wasa Electrical Service into the largest electrical contracting company in Hawaii, and was key in settling a 17-week strike by electrical workers in the mid-1980s.
Wasa died Friday of congestive heart failure at his son's Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., home, according to his son, Andrew. He was 85.
Wasa grew ill after flying to California on Thanksgiving and stayed with his son until his death.
"He's somebody that set the bar in the electrical industry as far as innovation, wages and working conditions," said Gerald Yuh, business manager and financial secretary of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1186, which has 8,000 members.
"Shigeo Wasa is the consummate union supporter. He has treated his members appropriately," Yuh said.
Wasa started Wasa Electric in the '50s, his wife said, after working at Pearl Harbor as an engineer. The company has grown to 300 employees today with branches throughout the state.
"The man was phenomenal," Yuh said, adding that he was able to work in partnership with the union through three generations of union leadership over more than 50 years.
Wasa built "what is a great partnership and strengthened the electrical industry between IBEW and signatory contractors," he added.
But things did not always go smoothly between contractors and electrical workers.
In 1984 the contractors association and the electrical workers reached an impasse that lead to a 17-week strike. Wasa, the largest electrical contractor, was the first to settle a contract, leading to the end of the strike, Yuh said.
Wasa later helped found the Electrical Contractors Association of Hawaii, which exists today. Wasa was chairman of the association.
"That was his attitude -- not only making money for the company itself, also of the men, making sure that they got the fair pay they deserve," Yuh said.
Wasa sold and bought his company more than once, while still remaining president. In the 1970s he sold it to another U.S. company for profit, then bought it back when the company changed its mission philosophy. In 1987 he sold Wasa Electric to Japanese Kinden Corp. to grow the company again, and remained chairman and chief executive officer until his death, said Wasa President Ron Yee.
Projects Wasa Electric worked on include the Honolulu Airport, the H-3 freeway lighting and hotels and office buildings on Oahu, Maui, Kauai and Big Island.
Born Dec. 20, 1921, in Honolulu, Wasa was a graduate of McKinley High School. He met his wife in 1959 while on a trip to Tokyo and married her one year later.
He enjoyed fishing and traveling, said Yayoi Wasa, his wife of 47 years.
"He's a very good personality," she said. "Every time, he's smiling. Sometimes he sparked the sense of humor."
Besides wife Yayoi and son Andrew, Wasa is survived by his brother James, daughter-in-law Deborah, granddaughter Jesse, aunts, uncles, cousins and several nieces and nephews.
Services will be March 3. The location is pending.