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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, June 2, 2001

Gill, Rutledge to vie again in Local 5 election

By Karen Blakeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

The leadership of Local 5, the troubled hotel worker's union, is up for grabs again with elections of 15 top officers and executive board members scheduled for July.

Arch rivals Eric Gill and Tony Rutledge will compete for the top spot of the 11,000-member Local 5 Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union representing workers at hotels throughout the state. The two men have opposed each other for most of the past four years.

Gill, technically the incumbent although he was deposed by the union's international office in February, announced his candidacy during a press conference yesterday .

"We hope the membership wasn't fooled by the strange things that have happened at Local 5," Gill said. "We're confident they will re-elect us."

Gill was elected secretary-treasurer, the top office, in March 2000. The election was ordered by federal Judge David Ezra after Rutledge improperly removed Gill's name from a 1997 election ballot. Gill defeated Rutledge, who had led the union for 14 years, by 43 votes.

The victory was bittersweet for Gill. Rutledge supporters had been elected to most of the other offices. The two factions were at odds from the start, and grew further apart as time passed.

The battles between the two groups grew so heated that Local 5 was nearly paralyzed. A trustee, Sherri Chiesa, was appointed by the international office to replace both Gill and the executive board.

Chiesa will oversee the elections on July 6. She said that on July 7, she will turn over the leadership of the union to the winning candidates and leave Hawai'i.

Gill sees the election as an opportunity for him and his supporters to unify Local 5 leadership by winning the top officer slots and the executive board membership,

His opposition sees the situation differently.

Rutledge is the head of Unity House, a $60 million organization set up by Rutledge's father to benefit Local 5 members and Teamsters. He also is the vice president of the international hotel union, the organization that appointed Chiesa.

In a telephone conversation yesterday, Rutledge said he and his associates intend to run against Gill and his fellow candidates, whom Rutledge calls "wannabe labor leaders."

"I think the members recognize that he (Gill) has had his shot at it and he isn't qualified to run this union," Rutledge said. "I think they are going to look for someone else to do it, and hopefully that will be me."

Arlene Ilae and Kaui Akana, board members who opposed Gill during the battle that ended in trusteeship, will run for president and vice president on the Rutledge slate.

Gill's running mates will be Orlando Soriano for president and Hernando Tan for vice president.

Tan ran for president as Gill's running mate during the March 2000 elections. He lost to Soriano, who ran on the Rutledge ticket. But Soriano became a Gill supporter when the battles between Gill and the board broke out, and appeared beside Gill during the press conference yesterday.

Rutledge characterizes Gill as inexperienced, naive to the political realities of union leadership —including the necessity of turning enemies into allies after an election — and incompetent in the position's most important task: the negotiation of union contracts.

Gill characterizes Rutledge as a "strong-arm union leader" who focuses his energies into jealously guarding power, who habitually misused money and nearly took Local 5 into bankruptcy while Unity House grew richer, and who remains blind to the changing needs and ethnic composition of Local 5.

Chiesa, the appointed trustee and the western regional director of the international union, refused to characterize either man or comment on the divisions that paralyzed the union.

She did say that both men and their supporters have cooperated with her since she took over.

"Without the support of both of them, we would not have achieved the contract we did," she said.

"I would urge both sides to put their difference aside and work together" she said. "But only time will tell."