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
"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.
Benjamin Saguibo, Laborers' Union business
manager whose signature appears on the Honolulu Disposal contracts
signed in recent years, did not respond to repeated telephone
Attorneys who represented the company and
the union during the NLRB proceedings were also unavailable for
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.