Thursday, January 14, 1999

Disturbing behavior
by Gary Rodrigues

GARY Rodrigues, state director of the United Public Workers union, has been the subject of several reports in the Star-Bulletin in recent months by Ian Y. Lind describing disturbing behavior by the labor leader.

bullet Last October, Lind reported that two women who had personal relationships with Rodrigues were the UPW's highest paid women and among the seven highest paid employees in 1997. The women were Rodrigues' secretary and his former secretary, turned administrative assistant. They were paid more than three of UPW's four island directors, the union's chief accountant and all 10 of its business agents.

Georgietta Carroll, Rodrigues' personal secretary until mid-1993 and then administrative assistant, received a base salary of $65,095 in 1997. Carroll resigned from the union last June after filing a sexual harassment complaint against Rodrigues. The complaint has apparently been settled.

Tani Olaso, who replaced Carroll as Rodrigues' secretary, was paid $53,917 in 1997. Her personal relationship with Rodrigues was cited in her divorce.

bullet Later in October, Lind reported that a company headed by Rodrigues was the authorized dealer in Hawaii for Lodge Log Homes, which supplied logs used to build the union's neighbor island offices. The UPW reported spending more than $2.7 million to construct the log buildings for its headquarters in Hilo, Lihue and Wailuku between 1986 and 1998.

bullet Last Monday Lind reported that officials of the UPW have flown to Oregon several times a year to do construction and maintenance work on property owned by Rodrigues. Lind quoted Walt and Donna Parker, who lived in Rodrigues' Oregon house from 1993 to 1996, as saying groups of union staff members cleared the property, cut trees, erected and maintained fences and did other jobs, including installing a sprinkler system. A federal labor official said the trips might have violated federal law if union funds were spent for Rodrigues' personal benefit.

bullet Yesterday Lind reported that Rodrigues failed to recuse himself when the state Judicial Selection Commission, of which he is a member, considered the appointment of state insurance commissioner Rey Graulty to the Circuit Court, even though Rodrigues was involved in a lawsuit and investigation by Graulty's office. Graulty, as the court-appointed liquidator of the failed health insurer Pacific Group Medical Association, had sued the UPW and is investigating payments to a company owned by Rodrigues' daughter. Graulty said he informed the commission of the situation before the hearing on his application, but when he appeared before the commission, "Mr. Rodrigues was there."

bullet Governor Cayetano last week criticized the Public Employees Health Fund board for awarding a life insurance contract for city and state employees to Royal State National Insurance Co., saying the decision "smacks of favoritism." Representatives of the Hawaii Government Employees Association and the UPW sit on the health fund board and voted to approve the contract. Russell Okata, executive director of the HGEA, and Rodrigues are members of the board of Royal State.

Rodrigues has described these reports as attempts to discredit him inspired by Star-Bulletin opposition to him and his union. But the facts speak for themselves. They indicate a remarkable insensitivity to what constitutes unethical behavior, if not outright illegality. That a person with such a record leads a major labor union in this state and wields considerable influence in the Democratic Party establishment should be a matter of concern to all citizens.


Jordan’s retirement

MICHAEL Jordan could be in only one arena at any given time but his presence was felt throughout the National Basketball Association. So will his absence. His retirement from professional basketball presents a challenge for the NBA even greater than it faced following a six-month labor dispute that will reduce the season by more than one-third.

Besides being probably the most exciting basketball player ever, Jordan was a perfect role model, a charismatic gentleman who became an advertising bonanza. Annual sales of NBA- licensed merchandise have soared from $68 million to more than $3 billion since he donned a Chicago Bulls uniform in 1984. Jordan alone earned $42 million last year from endorsements. (The stock of Nike Inc. dipped after the retirement announcement, apparently reflecting concern among investors about the future of "Air Jordans.")

Other marquee basketball players have come and gone without much damage to the game. When Julius Erving, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul Jabbar hung up their uniforms, their places were filled by Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, who were followed by Jordan. Tiger Woods emerged on the PGA Tour in time to help Nike fill the void left by Jordan, but promoters of pro basketball have found no one as yet to carry their banner. The new cap on salaries (at least those not grandfathered into the recent labor settlement) should allow team owners to promote superstars without making them unaffordable.

The NBA is trying to lure fans back into its fold by offering ticket discounts when play resumes in February. Players will be asked to cooperate by making themselves more accessible. A large promotional campaign may be needed to counter the game's double hit.

Coming on the heels of the labor dispute, Jordan's departure undoubtedly is a severe blow to pro basketball as it competes for Americans' entertainment dollar. But the NBA will survive Jordan's departure just as it did when he took nearly two seasons off to try his skills at baseball. One player's retirement, even that of Michael Jordan's unmatched stature, does not set off the final buzzer for any sport.

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