By Ian Lind-Star-Bulletin
September 26, 2000
Unwritten side deals to secret union contracts can't be used to deny benefits to workers at two Honolulu waste-disposal firms, according to a decision yesterday by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
The decision reinstates a lawsuit by four current or former employees of Honolulu Disposal Service Inc. and Alii Refuse Corp. against the companies and Laborers International Union Local 368.
The four men, who drove trucks carrying roll-off containers commonly used at construction sites, are seeking back wages and benefits due under what they claim were a series of secret collective-bargaining agreements with the Laborers Union from 1979 to 1996.
"The 9th Circuit has essentially said that you can't go around and make a secret union agreement that employees don't know about," said attorney Jim Bickerton, who represents the plaintiffs. "If you have a written collective-bargaining agreement, that's what you have to follow. You can't have any secret handshakes.
According to court records cited in the decision, the secret contract originated in 1978, when Liborio Cadiz, then a Laborers' business agent, approached Honolulu Disposal officer Clyde Kaneshiro after seeing him drive a refuse truck onto a construction site.
"After Cadiz told Kaneshiro that HDS had to sign up with the union to haul refuse from the site, they agreed to establish a collective-bargaining relationship allegedly on the oral understanding that the bargaining unit would be limited to a 'couple' of HDS drivers," the decision states.
The 9th Circuit decision reverses an earlier ruling by District Judge Helen Gillmor, who dismissed the case after rejecting the drivers' claims that the side agreement was illegal. The case will return for further proceedings.
Paul Schraff, attorney for the companies, said the ruling was limited to a technical issue.
"There are many other issues remaining, including factual issues and various legal defenses that are also there," Schraff said.