Okata set to hand over reins of HGEA
Russell Okata, who gained a reputation as a kingmaker in Hawaii politics during 26 years as executive director of the Hawaii Government Employees Association, will retire Dec. 31.
The powerful union leader, who has worked at HGEA for 38 years, will turn the top post over to Randy Perreira in a ceremony at 10 a.m. tomorrow at the HGEA headquarters on Mililani Street, the union said in a news release.
Perreira, HGEA deputy executive director and Hawaii AFL-CIO president, will become HGEA's fifth executive director on Jan. 1.
Okata began work at HGEA in 1970 and with a low-key style rose through the ranks as an administrative officer, deputy executive director and then executive director in March 1981.
Membership went from 27,000 in 1981 to about 43,000 now, including retirees and associate members.
He led the union out on strike for 12 days in 1994 and gave up the right to strike after successfully lobbying the Legislature for binding arbitration to settle labor contract disputes.
In a resolution recognizing Okata, the Hawaii AFL-CIO Executive Board said he "worked tirelessly to improve the lives of not only the members of HGEA but that of the entire state of Hawaii by his participation and leadership in innumerable community organizations, including the Blood Bank of Hawaii, Bishop Museum, Judicial Council of Hawaii, the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific, Army Civilian Advisory support."
The board said Okata's "dedication has been recognized through numerous awards," such as Citizen of the Year by the Boy Scouts of America Aloha Council, the NAACP Award for Outstanding Community Service and distinguished Honoree by the Public Schools of Hawaii Foundation.
In a statement announcing tomorrow's event, the union said it has made "great strides" under Okata's leadership to become a full-service union including not only collective bargaining representation but also recreation and social activities, discount programs, education and training services and scholarships for dependents, among others.
"Okata also leaves behind a legacy of strong political action, which has been one of the hallmarks of HGEA," the statement said.
A grassroots campaign by Okata and HGEA members helped Democrats unseat five Republican incumbents in the House and reverse previous GOP gains in the 2004 election.
"I would say they played a major role in the elections of a lot of candidates in Hawaii," state House Speaker Calvin Say said in a Star-Bulletin article Dec. 30., 2004, naming Okata among "Ten Who Made a Difference" that year.
"He's a great leader," Richard Port, former Hawaii Democratic Party chairman, said of Okata in the story. "He represents the workers in the best sort of way."