rejects claim filed
A hearing officer denies aBy Ian Lind
complaint that Rodrigues and
'Chip' Uwaine violated rights
of fellow members
A union hearing officer has rejected charges that United Public Workers director Gary Rodrigues violated the rights of union members.
In a nine-page decision, Bruno Dellana, an international vice president of UPW's parent union -- the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said it is not a violation of the union's constitution for Rodrigues to use the UPW newsletter to attack his critics by printing derogatory statements about them, even if those statements "were untrue and/or in retaliation" for their criticisms of Rodrigues.
Three current or former UPW chief stewards accused Rodrigues and UPW newsletter editor Clifford "Chip" Uwaine of using the union newsletter to attack members who criticized what they said were several questionable financial transactions by Rodrigues. The stewards also charged they had been denied access to union minutes and financial records.
Dellana ruled Rodrigues and Uwaine not guilty of all charges.
A hearing on the matter was held in Honolulu July 13. Dellana's decision was dated Sept. 3, but was not received in Honolulu until the end of last week.
"Free speech is a two-way street," Dellana wrote, ruling that both Rodrigues and his critics were entitled to attack or question each other.
Dellana also ruled that the three stewards failed to prove they had requested and been denied access to union financial records. Further, even if Rodrigues was "the instigating force" behind a UPW policy that prevents members from examining minutes of the UPW's executive board, he could not be held responsible for a policy adopted by the board, Dellana ruled.
Rodrigues could not be reached for comment about the decision. He has refused to answer questions from the Star-Bulletin since last year.
Keith Chudzik, one of the three current or former UPW chief stewards who filed the charges, called the overall effect of the ruling "preposterous." "If you ask questions and he doesn't like it, he could use the union's paper to call you a child molester, a racist or a pervert, knowing that it is untrue, and that would be perfectly OK according to this decision. That's absurd," Chudzik said.
"The union's newsletter shouldn't be used as a means to destroy the credibility of anybody that has questions as to leadership or accountability. That shouldn't be allowed," he said. Chudzik also reacted to Dellana's ruling that the critics failed to prove they had tried and failed to get access to union records.
"We had evidence and testimony by witnesses to show that we've written to Rodrigues. We asked orally, we asked in meetings, we asked business agents, we asked union staff and executive board members, and that doesn't seem enough. I guess you have to float a balloon or put a legal notice in the paper, " Chudzik said.
During the hearing, eight union members, including the three who filed charges, testified under oath that they had tried to get minutes and financial records. Several union officials called as witnesses refused to testify, including Uwaine. Rodrigues never testified under oath, although he made extended comments during the proceedings.
Carl Biers, director of the New York-based Association for Union Democracy, a watchdog group that supports members' rights, said relying on the internal disciplinary procedure of the union "can be pie in the sky" because those procedures favor the existing leadership.
Rodrigues has headed the UPW since 1981, and has been a member of AFSCME's judicial panel for more than 12 years.
Chudzik said no decision has been made on whether to appeal the ruling to the AFSCME's full international executive board.
Rodrigues still faces an ongoing federal investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor and the Department of Justice into several transactions, apparently including his ties to a company that supplied logs used to build several union office buildings, and payments made by the union's health insurance provider to a company owned by one of Rodrigues' daughters.