Some local members of the United Public Workers union this week hadn’t even heard about a petition circulating among O’ahu members to encourage union leadership to call a union-wide election to choose a permanent successor to Kaua’i native Gary Rodrigues.
Rodrigues, former UPW state director, was convicted by a federal-court jury last week of 101 counts of mail fraud, embezzlement and money laundering, and his daughter, Robin Rodrigues Sabatini, also a Kaua’i native, was convicted of 95 counts of embezzlement, for accepting money for work she apparently never did.
Sentencing for both should take place on O’ahu before the end of the year, but the federal court Wednesday denied a prosecution motion to demand the pair repay over $300,000 of ill-gotten gains.
Gilbert Nobrega, director of the UPW on Kaua’i, referred all media questions to Dwight Takeno, interim state director. Takeno, chosen by the union’s executive board to replace Rodrigues, did not return a telephone call Wednesday seeking comment.
Daniel Hamada, state Department of Education Kaua’i district school superintendent, said Wednesday he had heard of no petition circulating among UPW members who work as custodians or cafeteria staff at public schools.
“Normally, someone would call me” if such a petition were circulating. Efforts were also unsuccessful at reaching any of the 700 Kauaians who are represented by the UPW on this island and willing to comment for the record.
The attorney for Rodrigues and Sabatini said he will appeal the convictions, and has predicted victory before the appeals court.
Gary Rodrigues was suspended by the UPW’s parent union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), last week.
The AFSCME named George Yasumoto as state president, and has sent to Hawai’i a national officer to supervise the continued actions of the UPW.
Takeno has promised an audit of union financial books in the wake of the Rodrigues conviction.
O’ahu union members, worried that Rodrigues is still wielding substantial power even while awaiting sentencing that could include prison time, also fear Rodrigues is using his continued influence in hopes of winning a retirement agreement worth $750,000.
They have begun a petition campaign, encouraging UPW members to sign it to encourage UPW leadership to hold an open election to choose a permanent successor to Rodrigues, whose annual salary had been $200,000.
They have also called on the AFSCME to place the union in trusteeship, and replace Takeno, a longtime supporter of Rodrigues.
Apparently, that petition hasn’t yet trickled to Kaua’i, where Rodrigues began his ascent to union leadership and still holds near-absolute power over UPW members.
There are over 700 UPW members on Kaua’i, including some state and county laborers, janitors and maintenance workers at Kauai Community College, Wailua Golf Course, public schools, and workers at county sewage treatment plants, licensed practical nurses, Kauai Community Correctional Center guards, county household refuse collection workers, and others.
On Kaua’i, plumbers, equipment operators, auto mechanics, paramedical assistants, licensed practical nurses, carpenters, and other state employees are UPW members.
Some other county workers who are UPW members include truck drivers, road-crew laborers and mechanics.