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Saturday, April 8, 2000

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Juanito Corpuz congratulates newly elected Union Local 5
Financial Secretary-Treasurer Eric Gill yesterday during
a celebration.

New leader expects
‘smooth’ transfer at
hotel workers union

Eric Gill says defeated union
chief Tony Rutledge has pledged
to help with upcoming contract talks

By Tim Ruel


Eric Gill will jump right into union contract negotiations with Hawaii's hotels, but he's got a surprising ally on his side: his former opponent Tony Rutledge.

Yesterday, Gill ended a two-year battle to dethrone Rutledge as financial secretary-treasurer of Local 5 of the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees union. Gill beat Rutledge by 39 votes.

Blank or voided ballots numbered 33. About 5,000 ballots were returned from the 10,000 sent out on March 16 to union workers at major hotels throughout Hawaii.

Gill said yesterday that he spoke with Rutledge, who said he would assist with this year's negotiations with hotel management.

"It looks like we'll have a nice, smooth, cooperative transition," said Gill, a kitchen worker at the Sheraton-Waikiki Hotel and a Local 5 member for 24 years.

Gill, who takes over this month, must hammer out a master agreement with several hotels in the state. The pact expired March 1.

"Nothing I haven't done before," Gill said. Also a member of the Hawaii Teamsters Local 996, he jumped into negotiations for employees of Oahu Transit Services Inc. in 1996 when President Michael Chambrella died of cancer.

Rutledge's cooperation marks a switch.

Before the elections he sent members a notice which referred to Gill as a "weak leader" and touted his own 25 years of hotel negotiation experience.

Hotel management and union workers will watch how well Gill does during the negotiations, said William Puette, director of the University of Hawaii West Oahu Center for Labor Education and Research. Gill has his work cut out, Puette said.

Most candidates who ran on Rutledge's slate for other union positions were victorious, winning 11 out of 14 seats, including president and vice president. Rutledge's son, Tony Jr., won a seat on the union board.

Rutledge said he plans to turn his attention back to leading Unity House, the $50 million nonprofit fund his late father, Art Rutledge, created to benefit both the Teamsters and the hotel workers union. Rutledge also said he would keep his paid position with the International Hotel Workers Union.

Rutledge admitted his commitment to Unity House, along with campaigning and constant union negotiating, took its toll on his re-election bid.

"I've got to be honest," he said. "The members like to see you more than I was able to get out there.

"Eric's a good campaigner," he added.

Rutledge also said his attorneys would look into appealing the election to the federal Labor Department, which supervised the tallying.

Rutledge was concerned that the League of Women Voters, which stayed up counting votes until 11 p.m. Thursday, may have made a mistake.

He said he didn't want to disparage the League of Women Voters, "but they had some older people counting."

Arlene Ellis, elections coordinator and past president of the league, said the Labor Department approved the league's counting, and that makes it final.

Rutledge said he expected to hear from his attorneys next week.

Gill does not expect any protest to change the election.

The cooperation does not surprise Puette, who is a friend of Rutledge's and Gill's.

"This isn't like a Hatfields and McCoys by any stretch of the imagination." Any nastiness in this election paled compared to other union feuds, Puette said.

Art Rutledge and Tom Gill, Eric Gill's father and a career politician, were old friends, Puette said. Eric Gill and Tony Rutledge have worked together at Local 5 for a long time.

Both have strong personalities, Puette said. Both strongly believe in the union.

In the past, however, the two disagreed over the hot issue of subcontracting, which allowed hotels under the old contract to hire companies with nonunion workers, for less pay. Gill opposed subcontracting; Rutledge had supported it, then changed his mind more recently when he concluded management had abused it.

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