Rodrigues leaves
UPW torn

Critics say the convicted union leader
had no authority to call a meeting
to pick his successor

Selection of UPW successor draws fire

By Rick Daysog

Convicted labor leader Gary Rodrigues resigned as state director of the United Public Workers yesterday during a contentious seven-hour meeting of the union's executive board that saw Rodrigues hand-pick his successor.

Rodrigues, the UPW state director since 1981, offered his resignation and retirement to the board at the union's Kalihi headquarters. The board also said it voted unanimously to approve the appointment of Rodrigues' supporter Dwight Takeno, the UPW's director of research and legislation, as his interim replacement.

"I think what he did was for the good of the union and all the members of the union," said Robert Mielke, a member of the UPW's executive board. "He did what he thinks was right and he did what he had to do."

But the appointment of Takeno came over the objections of UPW President George Yasumoto.

"Gary is still in power. Gary did not relinquish that, and he wants to transfer it to Dwight Takeno," Yasumoto said. "I think the board is against me."

Rodrigues, who was not available for comment, was found guilty by a federal jury Tuesday on 101 counts of mail fraud, embezzlement and money laundering stemming from a kickback scheme involving union dental and medical contracts. Rodrigues' daughter Robin Haunani Rodrigues Sabatini was convicted on 95 counts of mail fraud and money laundering.

Rodrigues' resignation and Takeno's appointment capped a tension-filled day in which Rodrigues supporters and opponents wrestled over the control of the roughly 12,000-member union.

Yasumoto attempted to cancel yesterday's board meeting, saying Rodrigues had no authority to call the meeting.

On Thursday, the UPW's mainland parent, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, suspended Rodrigues because of his conviction.

AFSCME President Gerald McEntee also recognized Yasumoto as the UPW's highest-ranking officer, giving him the authority to call or cancel board meetings.

Yasumoto met with union representatives but did not take part in yesterday's board meeting.

He initially appointed former state Department of Labor & Industrial Relations Director Dayton Nakanelua as interim chief administrator and principal executive to take over Rodrigues' day-to-day duties.

But the board effectively annulled Nakanelua's appointment when it installed Takeno as Rodrigues' replacement.

Yasumoto said decisions made during yesterday's meeting were not binding since the meeting was not authorized. He said he may have to go to court to clarify the matter.

Other Rodrigues critics shared Yasumoto's outrage.

Many of the board members who voted to approve Takeno's appointment "were asleep at the switch" when Rodrigues helped himself to the union's finances, said John Witeck, a former assistant Oahu division director for the UPW before he was fired by Rodrigues four years ago.

Witeck said that AFSCME probably has "to clean house" and hold new elections for officers and board members to restore union democracy.

"This is not a story only of individual corruption, it's a story about institutional failure where the checks and balances didn't work," said Witeck, who sued Rodrigues and the union for wrongful termination and retaliation. "I don't think this is a good sign for change. ... You saw today that the rank and file was not involved at all."

Mielke, a shop steward at the Halawa Correctional Facility, said that the board acted legally to approve Takeno's appointment. He said the board followed UPW's constitution as well as AFSCME's constitution in naming Rodrigues' successor.

The board also consulted the legal advice of labor attorney Herbert Takahashi and local litigator Robert Miller, Mielke said.

A person who took part in yesterday's meeting said Rodrigues did not take part in the discussions or votes to name his successor. The board also interviewed staffers and business agents about Takeno's qualifications, he said.

"It was a sad day to hear our state director, Gary Rodrigues, announce his resignation and retirement," added Stephen Perreira, a union board member from Kauai. "I am confident that Dwight S. Takeno will be an excellent state director and am pleased that the United Public Workers state executive board made the right decisions for our union and membership."

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