HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The takeover of one of Hawaii's largest unions by its international parent comes amid longtime complaints of nepotism in the office.
A Hawaii News Now review of the IBEW Local 1260's filings with the U.S. Labor Department shows that the union employed at least four people related to business manager Brian Ahakuelo, including:
- Ahakuelo's wife, Marilyn, who earned $105,000 last year as the union's director of community services;
- His son, Brandon Ahakuelo, the union's chief of staff, who was paid $143,000 last year;
- Sister-in-law Jennifer Estencion, who earned $101,000 as a senior executive assistant;
- And another relative, executive assistant Neilani Ahakuelo, who received $77,000.
Brian Ahakuelo earned more than $211,000 last year, making him one of the highest-paid union executives in the state.
Besides the Ahakuelos, the union's director of media, Russell Yamanoha, and his wife, Tammy, work for Local 1260. Russell Yamanoha was paid $142,000 last year.
Nepotism in labor unions is usually tolerated to some extent by the federal government, but experts said that at Local 1260 it was getting out of hand, prompting the union's mainland parent to take notice.
The hefty salaries come at time when union dues have increased for some of Local 1260's membership.
"The international does not ordinarily get involved in local politics with the local unions. The only time it becomes an issue is when the ERISA pension funds are at risk or there's allegations of financial mismanagement," said Myles Breiner, who has represented several former union executives who were removed from office by federal officials.
Hawaii News Now was told that the union's international parent has sent several representatives to investigate the local's finances and that the U.S. Labor Department is beginning to ask questions.
Brian Ahakuelo was not available for comment. He and other staff are being paid during the investigation.