Unions at odds over endorsements

Published: May. 30, 2012 at 9:42 PM HST|Updated: May. 30, 2012 at 11:04 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Two separate firefighter associations are clashing over endorsements and the political involvement has prompted the Honolulu Fire Department to take action.

The Hawaii Fire Fighters Association supports Kirk Caldwell.  The Honolulu Fire Department Retirees Association endorses Ben Cayetano.  The disagreement sparked a political fire.

"I guess we ruffled some feathers and this is the result of it," said Retired Fire Chief Donald Chang, Honolulu Fire Department Retirees Association.

The Retirees Association did hold meetings on fire department property.  Current Fire Chief Kenneth Silva wrote the Retirees Association a letter notifying them they can no longer use department facilities not even to pick up mail.  But it was written back in February. The retirees didn't endorse Cayetano until May. The letter was written after the Association endorsed Linda Lingle for Senate.

"So to say that is retaliation that's kind of a stretch I would say. It doesn't matter who the candidates are, HFD is apolitical," said Fire Chief Kenneth Silva, Honolulu Fire Department, in an interview with reporters.

Chief Silva says the Department has warned the Retirees Association in the past that HFD does not permit politically oriented organizations to utilize Fire Department property.

"We have a family type relationship with our retirees so we thought that just by educating them about the process it wouldn't continue but because it has continued we had to take that action," said Chief Silva. "We have no ill will toward any candidate in any election."

However the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association certainly has an opinion.  It called the retirees endorsement of Cayetano a "disservice and an insult."  In a letter written to its 3,000 members the union called Cayetano arrogant and disrespectful.  The hard feelings date back to the 1996 contract negotiations when Cayetano was governor.  The union is so frustrated with the Retirees Association it wants a retraction of the endorsement.

"I think we have the right to ask and that's what I said here I am respectfully requesting, and it is an ask. It's not a retaliation. It's an ask," said Bobby Lee, Hawaii Fire Fighters Association.

"It's a sign of disrespect and it's a sign of intimidation and bullying," said Ben Cayetano, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate and former Governor.  "Read between the lines, it's clear that what's happening is that it's not just the firefighters union, but it's also the HGEA, UPW and this cabal of labor organizations pulling together because they're worried. They're worried about losing this election."

The union says it's allowed to endorse because of its non-profit status and bylaws.  Whereas it says the retirees association is only allowed to lobby state legislators, not endorse candidates.  Of course they disagree on that as well.

"If you are going to do political endorsements than you should play by the same rules as everyone else," said Lee.  "We've tried our best to treat them with respect and to work with them and to try and help them understand that they don't have the authority to do political endorsements and political action."

"As far as the ethics commission is concerned. If you are not a paid employee of the city or state, you do not wear the uniform, which we are retired we do not wear a uniform, than we are exempt. We are not in any violation with the ethics commission," said Chang.

Chang also says the Retirees Association has moved on after getting "kicked out" of Fire Department facilities.

"With that we found a place. The price we have to pay for freedom of speech is small. We'll pay that price. We need good government and we need good people leading our government," said Chang.

Copyright 2012 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.