The Honolulu Star-Bulletin

Union Contract Concealed For 17 Years

Employees of an isle refuse firm had a contract-and were never told

By Ian Lind

Oct. 27, 1998

One of the state's largest refuse disposal firms signed a labor contract making it a "union shop" but didn't tell its workers for more than 17 years, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court.

The labor contract between Honolulu Disposal Service, Inc. and the Laborers' International Union Local 368 was renewed and updated five times between 1979 and 1996, but they "failed or refused to inform" most employees of its existence, the suit says.

"It's mind-boggling," said Honolulu attorney Jim Bickerton, who filed the suit along with co-counsel Barry Sullivan.

"I'm really looking forward to questioning these defendants under oath and finding out just why no one bothered to comply with or enforce these contracts."

The contract was not disclosed until early in response to an organizing drive by the Carpenters' Union, which had succeeded in signing up one-third of the employees. After learning of the secret contract, the Carpenters Union complained to the National Labor Relations Board, which reached a January 1997 settlement with the company and the Laborers' Union voiding the long-standing contract.

NLRB election tomorrow

An election under the supervision of the NLRB is scheduled to take place tomorrow afternoon. The company's 75 employees will choose between the Carpenters' Union or remaining without union representation. The Laborers chose not to appear on the ballot.

The company was accused of threatening, coercing, and intimidating employees to ward off the Carpenters' organizing drive, NLRB documents show.

Honolulu Disposal used the Laborers' pact to qualify to work on large unionized construction projects while not providing union benefits called for in the contract, the suit alleges. The missing benefits included overtime pay, paid holidays and vacations, travel benefits, contributions to union pension and welfare trust funds, job protection and grievance procedures, the suit states.

Alii Refuse, Inc., a related company operating from the same Sand Island headquarters as Honolulu Disposal, was allegedly covered by the contract for all or part of the time and is also named in the suit.

No stranger to trouble

Alii Refuse has been in trouble before. In 1991, the company pleaded guilty to federal anti-trust charges and agreed to pay a $100,000 fine. The company admitted that it conspired with other garbage-collection firms during the mid-1980s to artificially drive up prices by agreeing not to compete for business in certain parts of the island. Clyde T. Kaneshiro, president of both Honolulu Disposal and Alii Refuse, could not be reached for comment. His office initially said he was in a meeting, and later said he was out of town and unreachable by phone.

Kaneshiro is an officer and investor in Mahalo Airlines, Voyager Submarines, the Sand Island Business Association, and a number of other trucking, recycling and real estate-related companies, state business registration records show.

He was appointed to the Convention Center Authority in 1994, and resigned in December 1996, about a year after Honolulu Disposal got a contract to haul trash from the convention center construction site.

'Conscious conspiracy'

Benjamin Saguibo, Laborers' Union business manager whose signature appears on the Honolulu Disposal contracts signed in recent years, did not respond to repeated telephone messages.

Attorneys who represented the company and the union during the NLRB proceedings were also unavailable for comment yesterday.

Bickerton has asked the court to allow the case to proceed as a class-action, and hopes to recover the value of all benefits that employees were entitled to under the terms of the contract.

Bickerton said only a handful of employees who had to enter union job sites as part of their waste-hauling duties were issued union cards, while the rest were told nothing.

"Regardless of what motivated this conduct, it clearly violated both federal collective-bargaining laws and pension laws," Bickerton said.

"From the employees' perspective, it is difficult to understand how this could have happened without a conscious conspiracy between Honolulu Disposal and the Laborers' Union," Bickerton said.

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