Tuesday, January 9, 2001
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Posted on: Tuesday, January 9, 2001

Hotel union orders sensitivity training

By Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writer

Previous stories:
Embattled leader tells of union's power struggle
Unity House board kicks out union leaders
Unity House leader embroiled in conflict
Officials of the hotel workers union here have been ordered to implement "sensitivity training" among more than 10,000 members to counter what a Mainland investigator calls "a perception of ethnic favoritism" pitting Filipino members against others.

The order is the result of recommendations from a special master who investigated what he called the "turmoil" at the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees International Union Local 5 in Hawaii.

The recommendation for sensitivity training was approved by John H. Wilhelm, general president of the union, in a Dec. 14 letter from his Washington, D.C., headquarters. Wilhelm also directed officials to sort out disputes between financial secretary Eric Gill, who heads the union, and an executive board dominated by backers of Gill’s rival Tony Rutledge.

Special Master Arthur M. Schiller, who investigated the union last year for the international in response to complaints about ethnic preference and union mismanagement, said charges have emerged that there is in the union "a mind-set which is indifferent to the feelings of other sizable nationality segments, such as the Japanese, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Korean, etc."

Gill responded that Schiller’s conclusions were one-sided.

Gill defeated Rutledge for the local’s top job last April by a narrow 45-vote margin, and carried only two supporters onto the 11-member executive board.

Rutledge lost his Local 5 job, but remained chief of Unity House, a service organization associated with, but separate from, Local 5 and Teamsters 996, and formed by Rutledge’s late father, Arthur Rutledge.

Dispute started with Rutledge's death

Battles over control of the unions and Unity House erupted after the senior Rutledge died in 1997 and continue to this day.

In September, Tony Rutledge accused Gill and others of trying to seize Unity House assets, and bounced them from the Unity House board. In October, Rutledge backers on the Local 5 board accused Gill of violating union by-laws and asked the international to place the local in trusteeship.

Gill said yesterday that "there is abundant insensitivity running in both directions," between his supporters and Rutledge’s backers, and that "we have already started sensitivity training and are consulting with various firms who do this work."

Gill said Schiller "seems to be concerned with only one direction" of insensitivity, and that Schiller failed to mention "death threats and racial epithets" directed at union president Orlando Soriano.

Schiller cited other events, such as Gill’s appointment of Filipino supporters as business agents, and complaints that the new business agents bypass shop stewards "and seek out primarily Filipino membership, where meetings and conversations are conducted in a Filipino dialect."

Schiller said use of a shared language may have been well-intentioned, commonplace and "comfortable" to those who participated. "But to those who do not understand the language and who are thereby excluded from the group, there is a tendency to feel that something sinister may be going on, or that the union’s leadership is catering only to the wishes of the Filipino members."

The trade union movement, Schiller said, is founded on the concept of inclusion. "It is therefore of utmost importance that Local 5 develop a program of sensitivity training for all officers, representatives and members, to stress basic concepts of human relations and mutual respect."

Schiller also investigated a number of allegations from each side on union management issues.

The Wilhelm decisions

Based on Schiller’s findings, Wilhelm made a series of decisions related to the union, including:

Allowing Gill to pay routine operating expenses without going to the executive board, but requiring the board’s approval for "salaries, wages, compensations and expense allowances."

Recognizing pension plan trustees named by the executive board, and not a rival set of trustees named by Gill.

Supporting Gill’s decision to investigate Rutledge’s approval of cash payouts to Rutledge and 12 other union staff persons laid off last spring of accumulated vacation time and auto allowances.

Ordering that the union settle all past and pending issues, including board charges against Gill and Soriano, by the end of January.

Rutledge said he was pleased by most of the recommendations in the report, and hoped Gill would conform to Wilhelm’s orders and concentrate on the local’s welfare.

"He’s had this ongoing vendetta or obsession or something with me, and he hasn’t been paying attention to the work at hand," Rutledge said.

Gill denied he is obsessed with defeating the Rutledge wing despite "numerous interferences" with his leadership.

"We are trying to work this out," Gill said. "The general president wants us to work this out with the board, and I am preparing positions and providing documentary evidence. ... We are going to work it out with the board."

Advertiser staff writer Karen Blakeman contributed to this report.

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