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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 3, 2002

Bad blood among Teamsters make for real-life drama

 •  Surf movie gets tax break meant to lure high-tech

By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer

Even as the state tries to entice film and television productions here with tax benefits and the University of Hawai'i considers establishing a film school to train a new generation of creative professionals, no one has figured out what to do about the troubles caused by Teamsters on and off movie sets.

Teamsters who drive film industry trucks can make up to $1,000 a day. Such big paydays can lead to bitter competition in Hawai'i's small job market. These trucks were on location at Hale'iwa's Ali'i Beach Park last month for the filming of "Surf Girls."

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

Leo Reed, a high-ranking Teamsters Union executive based in Hollywood, acknowledged problems nationwide with movie drivers but said Hawai'i members are particularly troublesome.

"I don't want to have nothing to do with Hawai'i (Teamsters) no more," said Reed, who was born and raised in Kahuku. "There are some good drivers in Hawai'i. They're great Teamsters and it's a shame they have to suffer ... because of a few individuals."

Recent troubles on the North Shore set of the film "Surf Girls," which stands to gain up to

$16 million in state tax breaks, underscored both the state government's generous commitment to Hollywood and the inability of some Teamster members to get along with each other.

Bitter competition for jobs

One Teamster was arrested for assault and a group of others were fired from their work on the film because of continuing internal dissension among movie drivers. The fired Teamsters were later rehired.

Film and television productions are a boon to the local economy. Movie and television drivers can be paid as much as $1,000 a day, which can mean bitter competition in Hawai'i's small job market.

Local drivers complain they have been denied jobs because Hollywood production companies bring Los Angeles Teamsters with them when they come to Hawai'i.

Reed, a former Honolulu Police Department officer and professional football player, is in charge of the Hollywood Teamsters local. He defended the hiring practices, saying it is standard procedure with Teamster union locals in 13 western states. He said that if a Hollywood producer brings its own equipment — trucks, vans or limousines — on location to Hawai'i, a Hollywood driver is hired.

Fight on set of 'Surf Girls'

But local drivers have continually complained that Reed and his relatives have used the contract and a seniority "grouping" system to keep Reed family members and friends working in Hawai'i, while other longtime union members here have gone unemployed.

Late last year, Reed had Hawai'i-based movie drivers transferred out of his Hollywood Teamsters Local 399 and into Local 63, another Southern California Teamsters unit.

One of the Local 399 drivers on "Surf Girls" was involved in a fight on Jan. 14 with a driver from Local 63 on the movie set, according to police reports.

The Local 399 driver, Reynold Kamekona, suffered an eye injury when he got into a "dispute over money" with Jon "Sudee" Dahl of Local 63, according to police records.

Dahl was arrested on a third-degree assault charge. He has pleaded not guilty. The case is set for trial April 23.

'We're at a critical juncture'

Donnie Dawson, director of the Hawai'i Film Office, said she is disturbed by "real or perceived" Teamster problems on movie sets. She said 2001 was "a down year" for the industry in Hawai'i and "we're at a critical juncture now."

"We can't afford to have a small percentage of workers having a negative impact on 99 percent of hard workers in this industry," she said.

The "Surf Girls" incidents are minor compared with previous violence and criminal activity involving Teamster movie drivers here.

Teamsters George Cambra and Joseph "Joe Boy" Tavares were convicted two years ago of burning movie production vehicles. Tavares is now serving a 15-year federal prison sentence. Cambra is still awaiting sentencing.

The 1994 murder of David Walden on the Honolulu waterfront sent shock waves through the entertainment industry.

Walden was an official of a Mainland firm supplying production vehicles to movie and television shows being shot in Hawai'i. Two men on a motorcycle shot Walden to death as he was waiting for a business appointment with three Teamster movie drivers. Law enforcement authorities here believe it was a contract killing related to Walden's film industry work.

Charges of nepotism

A year and a half ago, numerous local movie drivers were questioned by a federal grand jury about their knowledge of the Walden murder. The case is still open.

Ken Paff, national organizer for Teamsters for a Democratic Union, TDU, a Teamsters reform group based in Detroit, says "cronyism, nepotism and worse have been problems for too long" in Teamster movie driving around the country.

Paff lays the problems at the feet of Reed and Teamsters president James P. Hoffa.

"Leo Reed should be moving to clean things up but instead he's doing the opposite," Paff said.

Reed said Paff's organization, TDU, "stands for Too Dumb to Understand. That guy (Paff) is too dumb to understand. He knows the director of the motion picture division does not get involved in the internal matters of any union (local)."