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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 15, 2010

Union election under scrutiny

BY Rick Daysog
Advertiser Staff Writer

The Hawai'i laborers union is facing a new election controversy.

In 2008, the U.S. Department of Labor ordered the 3,500-member Laborers' International Union Local to set aside its vote to elect Oliver Kupau as its business manager because of Kupau's 2002 conviction on federal money laundering charges.

Now, the Labor Department is investigating whether the labor organization's funds were used improperly to help several candidates during a follow-up election in July.

The department issued subpoenas to the union in June and July seeking 4,000 pages of union business records, including membership lists, phone lists and board meeting minutes.

The department also is seeking timekeeping re-cords, travel expense records, cell phone and vehicle use records of several union officials.

In a filing in U.S. District Court last month, Labor Department attorney Leon Pasker said the department is investigating whether certain union members were "using union funds to promote a particular slate of candidates" in violation of federal law.

During the July rerun election, the laborers elected Alphonso Oliver as president and Peter Ganaban as business manager.

Lawyers for the laborers union have asked Federal Magistrate Barry Kurren to quash the subpoenas, saying the request for members' phone records violates their rights to privacy.

Herb Takahashi, the laborers attorney, said the union made the records available for inspection at his law office last year and agreed to photocopy specific documents for the Labor Department.

But he said department refused to look at the records under those terms.

Takahashi said that the statute of limitations has lapsed for the Labor Department to seek the subpoenaed records. Under federal law, the government has 60 days to contest a union's election results, he said.

"We're not stonewalling anyone. We made those records available," Takahashi said.

Kurren will hold a hearing on the matter on Wednesday.

The new election controversy comes three years after the local union's international parent placed the Hawai'i laborers union under the control of a trustee.

The international alleged that local union officials spent more than $450,000 on trips to the Philippines and gave preference to friends and relatives for construction jobs.

The trusteeship was lifted in 2008.