Parent union fires UPW director, top officer for ‘severe’ financial mismanagement

Updated: May. 1, 2020 at 7:58 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The parent union of the United Public Workers has fired the Hawaii organization’s state director and top financial officer for severe mismanagement of union members’ funds.

The move comes after an investigation and union trial.

UPW state director Dayton Nakanelua and Jeanne Endo, the union’s fiscal and member services administrator, were removed Thursday and AFSCME local administrator Liz Ho was appointed to temporarily take control of day-to-day union operations.

In a news release, the national union said the move was “to restore integrity and transparency for members.”

It said Nakanelua and Endo were responsible for “severe financial and other mismanagement,” which violated their duty to protect members’ funds.

An audit of the union completed last year found financial misconduct, including undocumented reimbursements, unapproved expenditures and an absence of financial oversight and proper accounting over hundreds of thousands of dollars in union funds, which come from member contributions.

A judicial panel convened by AFSCME criticized Nakanelua for receiving lavish perks. They include $13,600 in credit card expenditures that Nakanelua did not properly document, the panel said.

The panel also faulted Nakanelua for the use of $165,000 in union money to pay for a documentary film -- without receiving approval from the union’s executive board.

The UPW represents 13,000 state and county blue-collar workers as well as correctional officers statewide.

A release from AFSCME said the review found abuse and misuse of union funds and the existence of questionable perks and benefits.

Former union members who complained for years welcomed the shakedown.

“It was long coming. This has been a fight for years now to try to get things right," said former union member Jonathan Taum.

Nakanelua was also under fire in recent years for what some members consider an overly friendly relationship with state Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda, whose department employs hundreds of prison guards and state law enforcement officers. They complained that their grievances against the department were ignored by the union.

But AFSCME said the wrongdoing that led to Nakanelua’s firing was due to the financial improprieties and not the controversy over whether he was failing to protecting his members.

Following the audit, formal charges were brought against Nakanelua and Endo and several other union executives and staffers. But an AFSCME trial determined that only Nakanelua and Endo deserved removal.

Others received reprimands or warnings or were cleared for lack of evidence.

“It’s some of the same old, same old. A central group in power is able to stave off on questions and stonewall on accountability," said former investigative reporter and blogger Ian Lind, who wrote about corruption at the UPW under Rodrigues.

In a letter sent Friday to UPW’s members, AFSCME national President Lee Saunders explained that in late 2019, Nakanelua acknowledged and agreed to remedy many of the audit findings, but still did not take action.

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