Mel Kahele


Union president
led month-long
bus workers’ strike

Nine of ten parts

Whether cursed by motorists for leading bus workers on a month-long strike or praised for fighting for union members, Teamsters Local 996 President Mel Kahele showed his muscle by bringing Oahu public transportation to a halt.

Ten who made a difference
The Star-Bulletin is spotlighting 10 people who have made a difference in the community during 2003. This year's 10 is a diverse group but all have one thing in common: Each had a devotion to their cause and made a profound impact on Hawaii.

Just past midnight on Aug. 26, Kahele announced that more than 1,300 bus drivers, mechanics, clerks and other unionized employees would walk off the job because negotiators could not reach a contract agreement with their employer, Oahu Transit Services.

According to union officials, OTS proposed a three-year contract that would have reduced bus service, laid off 40 employees, offered no pay or pension increases, took away two holidays and long-term disability, reduced sick-leave pay and capped medical insurance payments.

On and off for 30 days at Neal Blaisdell Center conference rooms, Kahele went head to head with OTS chief negotiator Perry Confalone. Time and time again, both Kahele and Confalone would come out of the negotiations weary and frustrated, usually with the same message: No new contract, the strike would go on.

On Sept. 25 a tentative five-year contract was announced that guaranteed union members no layoffs or benefit cuts but also did not allow for any raises until the last two years. Teamster members got TheBus rolling again after they ratified the contract in a 948-109 vote.

Throughout the strike, Kahele and his strike captains managed to keep bus workers on the picket line though there was considerable public outcry against the work stoppage.

In November, Kahele was re-elected as Teamsters president, winning by a 118-vote margin out of 2,656 votes cast.


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