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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Transit service hire has familiar name

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

The company that runs the city bus system has hired T.K. Hannemann the mayor's nephew for a newly created labor relations job. Officials said the mayor had no influence in the selection.

J. Roger Morton, president and general manager of Oahu Transit Services Inc., recently took over the top job at the bus company after years as second in command and is working on a reorganization plan.

As part of his changes, Morton said he hired T.K. Hannemann this month as a labor relations specialist beginning Jan. 1 for his 20 years of experience with the bus system 15 as a driver and the past five working in labor relations for the Teamsters union that represents the workers.

"I was looking for someone who had worked in the labor relations field but also knows what it was like to get up at 3:30 in the morning," Morton said. He said he did not advertise for the post because he found in Hannemann some special qualifications he was seeking. He said there is no requirement to post the job.

Morton said he has known T.K. Hannemann for 20 years, much longer than he has known the mayor. "He was fair and he wasn't overly zealous," he said of T.K. Hannemann. "I've found him to be pretty pragmatic."

He said he didn't think it was fair to not consider T.K. Hannemann because of his uncle.

Mayor Mufi Hannemann is out of town, but spokesman Bill Brennan said the mayor was not involved in recommending his nephew for the job.

T.K. Hannemann declined to comment.

Morton said T.K. Hannemann also has credibility with bus drivers, the union and with managers, "more than someone who worked in the office most of his career."

And Morton said the 34-day strike in 2003 clearly showed that good union-management relations can be crucial. "Labor really is the soul of a transit system," he said. "Mutual respect opens the door to having dialogue over issues."

Morton said Hannemann did similar work for the Teamsters union, but he and some others were not re-hired at year's end. That meant that Hannemann by contract was returning from his leave of absence and could have gone back to being a bus driver, where he would have earned $21.97 an hour or roughly $50,000 a year.

In his new job, Morton said Hannemann earns between $35,000 and $49,000.

Morton said Mayor Hannemann played no role in T.K. Hannemann's hiring. But Morton admitted, "the one lingering concern I had was his last name."

Morton said he made the decision that he believed was right. "I believe it would have been unfair to conclude that we couldn't hire him because of his last name," he said.

Morton began his transit career as a county worker in Honolulu in 1974. He said the transit service employs 1,750 people and runs TheBus and TheHandiVan with a weekly ridership of about 220,000.

Reach Robbie Dingeman at rdingeman@honoluluadvertiser.com.