HECO, Union Share Blame

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - March 16, 2011

I am not sure what else can be added to the Monday morning quarterbacking being done on the whole HECO/IBEW scandal that occurred recently. Or did you forget about this already? I know that we have a terrible case of short-term memory syndrome in our town. Our attention span is shorter than a 4-year-old on three Cokes at a piano recital.

But how can we forget what these two organizations did? OK, the severe weather that caused the power poles to fall, lines to snap and the electricity to go out is God’s fault. Nobody can blame HECO and IBEW for that. They are, however, responsible for what transpired after the storm.

Let me share a of couple of points. First, contract negotiations between HECO and its union employees under the IBEW have been going on for ages. The news reports say their agreement ended in November of last year and talks had been going on since September. What in the world was taking so long? I know there are issues on both sides, but the onus really does sit on the shoulders of HECO president and CEO Richard Rosenblum. It was on his watch that negotiations soured. You really couldn’t get it together in six months? It takes about a hundredth of that time to raise our rates, though.

HECO’s failure is a dereliction of duty. Why? Because, HECO is a monopolistic utility. There is no other game in town. If HECO fails to actively and swiftly ensure the continuing operation of their business, then the ramifications are more severe, thereby putting the entire community at risk. All I know is this wouldn’t have happened under Mike May’s command. Just saying.

The IBEW, getting frustrated with the negotiations with HECO, set a date to strike. That is its prerogative and, I can understand that when there is a impasse, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. But, remember, you are staffing a monopolistic public utility. Should you be allowed to walk off a job that puts the general public at risk? Maybe not. Perhaps the utility should be subjected to binding arbitration. That’s for the Legislature to decide.

So the storms come and IBEW is ready to walk out. There are power outages throughout Ewa and Ewa Beach. During the initial moments of the storm, other communities lose power, too. But Ewa really gets slammed with about 8,000 households losing electricity. The IBEW orders a strike at 3:30 p.m. while customers are without power. The union walks out on those businesses and families in order to follow a strike order send down by IBEW leadership. Yes, they hit the picket lines during a power outage. That is like a unionized lifeguard walking away when someone is drowning.

Understandably, this riled a few folks including Gov. Abercrombie, state Rep. Kymberly Pine of the Ewa area and Tom Berg, the district’s city councilman. GoverCrombie said in a release, “I have spoken with leaders of Hawaiian Electric Co. and the union. My thought is that they can set aside their respective positions during this emergency situation until the public’s safety is taken care of.” Well, many believe the more appropriate response would have been, “Get back to work, now! If not, I will use every power at my disposal to legally force you back to work and, if either of you have incurred any violations of the law, I will prosecute you to the fullest extent of my abilities.” Or something like that.

HECO management bungled the negotiations and, despite their insistence, were not operationally ready for this strike.

IBEW leadership was shameful in ordering workers off the job when people were suffering. They could have risen above all this and said that the strike would resume as soon as all customers had power restored. They could have been the heroes in all this, but instead came off petty and greedy.

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