Monday, June 21, 1999

UPW's Rodrigues facing a union trial

Union officials charge that
Rodrigues repeatedly violated the
rights of UPW members

By Ian Y. Lind


United Public Workers state director Gary Rodrigues will face a union trial as early as next month on charges he repeatedly violated the rights of UPW members.

Three current or former UPW chief stewards say that Rodrigues and the UPW state executive board violated the union constitution by using the UPW newsletter to attack members who questioned Rodrigues' actions and by refusing to disclose financial records or minutes of union board meetings.

The upcoming union trial on the charges was confirmed in a June 10 letter to the stewards from Gerald W. McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a copy of which was obtained by the Star-Bulletin.

If found guilty of violating the union constitution, Rodrigues would face possible penalties ranging from reprimand, to suspension, to removal from office.

The proceedings add to a growing list of problems facing Rodrigues, who has headed the state's second-largest union since 1991 and is generally considered one of the state's most politically influential labor leaders.

Rodrigues has already been hit by a petition from the union's rank-and-file, published reports of questionable financial transactions, and a probe by the U.S. Department of Labor and the FBI, which may involve some of the same issues.

The union charges against Rodrigues were contained in an April 27 letter to AFSCME, the UPW's parent union, by Keith Faufata, Keith Chudzik and Angel Santiago-Cruz.

Faufata and Santiago-Cruz are elected chief stewards, and Chudzik was a chief steward until he stepped down after being selected for promotion.

The three had questioned several matters, including whether union funds were used to settle a reported sexual harassment complaint against Rodrigues, and whether union staff flew to Oregon at UPW expense to construct or maintain a home owned by Rodrigues.

The questionable transactions were detailed in a series of investigative reports published in the Star-Bulletin.

The stewards filed their formal charges with AFSCME after attempts to obtain information from Rodrigues and the union's Oahu Division and state boards failed.

Rodrigues could not be reached for comment. He has refused to answer questions from the Star-Bulletin about these matters since last year.

The stewards charge that Rodrigues, along with members of the union's state executive board:

Bullet Misused the union's newsletter by printing the names of members who questioned the alleged misuse of union funds and accusing them of being anti-labor.

Bullet Abused their authority by mailing a second newsletter attacking the three stewards by name after they wrote Rodrigues to protest the "gross and intentional distortion" of their views.

Bullet Refused to turn over documents, including union board minutes, that could have shown whether Rodrigues had abused his position or misused union funds.

The stewards say these actions were clear violations of the union constitution.

Both the UPW and AFSCME constitutions contain a "Bill of Rights" that guarantees freedom of speech concerning union matters, the right to active discussion of union affairs, and the right to full participation in the decision-making processes of the union.

Rodrigues' refusal to disclose union minutes and other records violates the right of members to pertinent information needed for full discussion of union issues, and to "a full and clear accounting of all union funds at all levels," the stewards charge.

"Clearly these charges are not frivolous, but go to the core of public perception that unions are autocratic and corruption is common," their complaint states.

"We are tradesmen, not lawyers nor parliamentarians, but know that we intend to do our best for our union's rank and file in prosecuting these charges."

According to the AFSCME letter, McEntee will appoint a member of the union's international executive board to preside over the trial, with a hearing panel also to be drawn from the executive board.

Rodrigues' position as a member of AFSCME's judicial panel, which handles appeals or other union cases assigned to it from across the country, requires the international board to step in and handle this complaint.

AFSCME's rules provide for the trial to convene no later than 78 days after the charges have been filed, which means it should begin about July 20. A union member or officer accused of violating the constitution has a right to a fair trial "with strict adherence to due process," and is considered innocent until proven guilty.

Rodrigues will choose whether the hearing will be open, and will be able to cross-examine and to present witnesses of his own.

State of the Unions

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