Saturday, June 23, 2001

Labor Board to
rule on UPW plan

The disputed plan lets workers
defer pay and take out money
when they leave their jobs

By Pat Omandam

The Hawaii Labor Relations Board will decide whether the city and the United Public Workers can negotiate a union-sponsored deferred-compensation plan.

The city is withholding about $1 million from the plan until it gets a ruling from the board or a judge. City attorneys say the plan, which allows workers to defer pay and take out the money when they leave their jobs, puts employee contributions at financial risk.

The 12,000-member blue-collar union, however, has threatened to strike if the money is not paid, saying action is a rejection of the entire UPW contract recently signed with four counties and the state.

"It's absolutely a frivolous claim," said UPW attorney Herbert Takahashi.

At a Labor Board hearing yesterday morning, Takahashi argued the board has no jurisdiction to act on this dispute. He challenged the city's claim that the plan is essentially a retirement plan that is not negotiable.

The union considers it a form of wage that is negotiable, he said.

"There is no evidence that this represents retirement benefits," Takahashi said.

The issue, he said, belongs on the bargaining table and not in the media or before the three-member labor board.

But attorney Jeffrey S. Harris argued the city has a case. Union employees are at risk for tax liability and federal court challenges because the plan was not established by the employer, he said.

Labor Board Chairman Brian Nakamura questioned whether the city could bring up the issue before the Labor Board since it was a multi-employer UPW contract that involved all of Hawaii's counties and state government.

A majority of employers are needed to raise the issue, he suggested.

Nakamura also wondered why the city did not bring up the issue while the contract was being negotiated.

Harris countered the city has standing to go before the board because negotiations included an illegal subject, which makes it an unfair labor contract.After the Labor Board meeting, UPW state Director Gary Rodrigues gave Harris a roll of toilet paper and said it was for his brown-nosing of the city and for all the "diarrhea coming out of your mouth."

Harris then followed Rodrigues outside with the toilet paper and was heard asking the union leader to autograph it.

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