State suing unions

The attorney general says the 2
public-worker unions are resisting
the state's audit attempts

The state wants the HGEA and UPW
to open the books on health and dental plans

By Rick Daysog

Attorney General Earl Anzai sued the United Public Workers and the Hawaii Government Employees Association today, saying the two public worker unions stonewalled the state's efforts to conduct an audit of their health and dental plans.

In a 20-page complaint filed in state Circuit Court, Deputy Attorney General Hugh Jones said the HGEA and UPW resisted numerous requests over the past three months by state Comptroller Glenn Okimoto to open up their books.

At one point, UPW State Director Gary Rodrigues suggested that Okimoto was "incompetent" and asked that the union be reimbursed for its costs for the audit.

"HGEA and UPW, and their representatives, have failed to cooperate with the comptroller's audit and have failed to make their books and records available," said Jones. "This would cause any reasonable person to wonder what they have to hide."

Rodrigues could not be reached for comment. Russell Okata, the HGEA's executive director, declined comment on the suit, saying he has not seen the complaint. But he said that he previously instructed his insurance representative to provide the records to the state.

Jones said the HGEA and the UPW are the only Hawaii public unions that have resisted an audit of the state money they received to provide health benefits for their members.

The dispute with the two unions arose in January when Okimoto asked all Hawaii's public employee unions to consent to an audit of the state funds they receive to provide health, dental and life insurance coverage for their members.

Under state law, the state is entitled to any savings or refunds the unions receive for providing health coverage for their members.

The amounts transferred to the unions sometimes exceeds the actual costs since the unions are able to negotiate more favorable rates for their members.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association, for instance, received a refund of about $1.3 million from its insurer in 1998, Jones said.

Today's suit comes as Rodrigues and his daughter Robin Haunani Rodrigues Sabatini face federal criminal charges that they skimmed $200,000 from two union benefit plans.

Last March, a federal grand jury charged Rodrigues with defrauding UPW members by negotiating contracts in which members paid inflated fees for dental and health-care benefits to Hawaii Dental Service and Pacific Group Medical Association.

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