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Union Charged to Move Forward

Part 2: Electric company employees relay contract frustrations as focus shifts to June elections. “Currently, the level of respect is not there—we need to bring that back… ”

May 12, 2011
Trisha Smith

Although a majority voted in favor of the “last, best” tentative agreement presented during the March strike, several members from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), Local 1260, remain shocked about what was “agreed” upon. They continue to face challenges to move forward together, as changes in retirement benefits for new hires started on May 1, which essentially splits the membership, according to one long-time worker.

“These new employees won’t fight for the former, nor develop the loyalty and pride that once existed among members,” said the employee.

Six ratification meetings were held from March 9 to 11, when members on Maui were asked to vote in the MECO Auditorium. One attendee admitted the meeting “felt strange—like we were on their turf.” She said company heads held “bento banquets,” offering refreshments in a “social setting to lighten the serious atmosphere.” Another worker said the new “terms seemed convoluted,” and he was frustrated with the time given to research its points. Others admitted they only received the tentative agreement from a Facebook group.

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IBEW Local 1260 has shifted its attention to elections on June 24, with eager candidates like Brian F.K. Ahakuelo leaving retirement to lead members after their recent contract bout. The veteran leader was a 1260 representative from 1992 to 2003, and an international director in Washington D.C. “In the last eight years since I was gone, there’s been a lot of take-backs,” said Ahakuelo, who plans to reopen amendment discussions and “restore accountability, responsibility and integrity” in the union if elected. “The members… are the best utility workers in the country and should be recognized for their skills.”

Another employee, Chassidy Morton, empathized with her union leader, IBEW 1260 Business Manager/Financial Secretary (BM/FS) Lance Miyake, during negotiations and final union meetings. “There was heat in the room… I know he fought for us,” she said.

Morton, a MECO plant aide, voted “no” and said she was confused about changes to employee post-retirement medical plans. “That wasn’t on the proposal I saw before—not fair,” she said.

Morton was “disturbed and saddened” after the statewide tally favored a proposal negotiated in a pressured environment over the course of the governor-mandated, 16-hour meeting on Sunday, March 6. “I just don’t understand how we can ratify no medical after retirement,” she said.

“In the final contract, recognizing the years of contribution of our existing employees, we did not change the retirement plans for existing employees, but there will be a new and different plan for future hires to help keep down costs to customers in the long run,” said Darren Pai, a HECO spokesman.

“This wasn’t about a raise,” said Morton. “I love my job, but I also care about the future of everyone.”

Coming from a union family, it’s instilled in her to “get post-medical retirement.” “That’s when we need it most.”

The contract includes a 7 percent wage increase (non-compounded) over the next three years, in contrast to the 12 percent growth in the former contract.

Morton said even though a wage raise was granted, it won’t make a difference as employee contributions to medical increase and the 33 percent employee discount off electric bills was eliminated.

“The contract provides for wage increases that recognize the difficult nature of the jobs performed by our unionized employees,” said Pai. “At the same time, recognizing the rapidly increasing cost of healthcare benefits, there are increased employee contributions for healthcare benefits. This is consistent with what most other employers are requiring.”

“I felt like we went on strike for nothing,” Morton said. “It seemed the ‘last, best’ offer just changed some wording and included more ‘takeaways’ than the prior proposal.”

One said the main issues were not addressed, including morale and trust, and some MECO workers sported hats and shirts at work declaring “I Voted NO!” after the strike. “I feel like what things weren’t broken, are now broken.”

“It’s not about fighting the company—it’s about respect,” said former IBEW 1260 International Director of Organizing Brian F. K. Ahakuelo, who is leaving retirement to vie for BM/FS. “Currently, the level of respect is not there—we need to bring that back… ”

HEI—the holding company for both the Hawaiian Electric utilities and American Savings Bank—reported a net income of $113.5 million in 2010, according to Pai. “The overall year-over-year increase in earnings for HEI was primarily due to business improvements at the bank,” he said.

According to a recent U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) report, the HECO Board and HEI Compensation Committee approved payment for a 2010 Executive Incentive Compensation Plan award of $282,037 to HECO President/CEO Richard Rosenblum in February 2011 for “achievement of the corporate goals” explained within the report. Within this Form 10-K—an annual report required by SEC giving a summary of company performances—executive payouts were revealed along with the 2010 Summary Compensation Table, which shows Rosenblum’s total recompense at over $1.9 million.

Also listed is information on perks eliminated for executives, such as “tax gross-ups,” a term used when companies cover taxes on executive severance packages. The HEI 2011 Proxy Statement—dated March 2—is available at

“I’m sure we [he and Rosenblum] both will be able to work together for a better tomorrow for his employees… and our members,” said Ahakuelo.

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