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Power still out; union will talk

HECO and the IBEW will meet along with a federal mediator as hundreds lack electricity

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 01:55 a.m. HST, Mar 06, 2011


With nearly 2,000 Oahu residents expected to go without power a second straight night, Hawaiian Electric Co. and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1260 agreed yesterday to meet with a federal mediator today to try to resolve a heated contract dispute that has at least one community up in arms.

"We reached out to the union ... asking if they'd meet with us using the services of a federal mediator, and the union agreed," said HECO spokesman Darren Pai.

About 1,300 HECO employees statewide struck Friday afternoon, walking off the job as thousands of Oahu residents and businesses were still without power after weather-related outages on Oahu earlier in the morning.

Today's meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. at the union's Moiliili headquarters, Pai said.

"We want to reach an agreement with the union, and we believe using the services of a third-party federal mediator gives us an opportunity to move the process forward."

IBEW officials could not be reached for comment.

The former contract expired on Oct. 31 but had been extended through Jan. 31 while negotiations continued.

Meanwhile, more than 1,700 Ewa Beach customers went without power for all but a few hours yesterday and were advised they would go without electricity at least until this morning.

The residences and businesses were among more 6,000 Ewa Beach customers who first lost power Friday morning. High winds toppled a large tree near the Child and Family Service headquarters on Fort Weaver Road, falling into power lines and causing more than 20 utility poles to break.

Several thousand customers lost power immediately, while another large section of Ewa Beach was cut off at about 6:30 a.m. when crews tried to restore power to the first group by switching those customers to other circuits.

All 6,000 customers, nearly all of Ewa, had power restored about 3:30 a.m. yesterday. But about 2,000 customers lost their power again about 6:30 a.m., Pai said.

"One of the circuits supplying power to a portion of Ewa Beach experienced a problem, causing an outage which affected approximately 2,000 customers," he said.

About 300 of those customers again had their power restored at midafternoon, leaving about 1,700 without electricity last night.

Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle said he was told "the problem is an underground wire," adding, "All efforts now are being made to find the exact location of where the problem is with that underground wire."

Several other "pockets" of Oahu also continued to be without power, including portions of Kailua, Waimanalo and Waiawa, Pai said.

Just before 10 p.m., HECO spokesman Peter Rosegg said about 950 customers were without power in the Kaneohe-Kahaluu area, but that 1,250 customers in Enchanted Lake had their power restored.

"Those outages may involve a few homes or a portion of a neighborhood," he said.

 

ONE LANE makai-bound along Fort Weaver Road, the main artery in and out of Ewa Beach, remained closed to traffic yesterday between Old Fort Weaver Road/Aawa Street and Renton Road because of debris and the work being conducted.

HECO is hoping to get the poles back up and raise wires by today.

"If they are successful with this schedule, that would mean that we hope to be able to return to normal traffic by the beginning of the workweek Monday," the mayor said.

Traffic signals at several key intersections in Ewa Beach were not working through yesterday. City Transportation Services Director Wayne Yoshioka urged drivers to treat those intersections as four-way stops.

About 18 employees from Ikaika, a private utility pole installation company hired by HECO, worked on the lines in Ewa and at another series of downed lines along Fort Barrette Road in Kapolei, said Isaac Grace, an Ikaika supervisor.

Asked whether the non-HECO employees would have been working on the poles if unionized workers had not gone on strike Friday, Pai said no.

About 15 HECO management employees were at Fort Weaver through yesterday helping to restore power to the 6,000 who lost electricity, he said.

In Ewa Beach, there was widespread disenchantment with the loss of electricity, especially from those who went a second day without power.

West Loch Fairways resident Karen Murphy, 21, who works in Ewa, said the power came back on and then went back out before she even had a chance to enjoy it when she woke up yesterday morning. She and her boyfriend used a battery-powered toy light saber to see. Murphy said she empathizes with HECO employees and believes they should get as much as they deserve.

"I just wished they picked a better time and not make people suffer," she said.

Carol Kamaile, 70, lives in West Loch Elderly Villages, a 150-unit rental project next to Asing Park. Kamaile said she knows of neighbors who have had to use oxygen tanks and other medical equipment requiring electricity.

James Ireland, the city's director of emergency services, said paramedics took two elderly Ewa-area residents to the hospital Friday night because they were in need of medical equipment.

A woman had an asthma attack and could not use an electronic nebulizer. She was treated by paramedics at the scene and was taken to the hospital in serious condition but had "a good prognosis," Ireland said.

A man who uses an electronic oxygen machine "was simply running out of oxygen" and was taken to the hospital in stable condition, he said.

"When I heard the electric guys were walking off the job, that was irritating," Kamaile said. "They should've taken into consideration people who've been on breathing machines, oxygen tanks and C-PAPs," Kamaile said, referring to a machine used by people with sleeping disorders. "They should've fixed what was here and then go on strike."

Across Fort Weaver Road in Ewa Villages, at the 84-unit D.E. Thompson Village for elderly people, seniors were also unhappy.

Gabe Silva, 80, said he was an Oahu Sugar Plantation worker and ILWU member for 42 years, starting at 81 cents an hour. Whenever ILWU struck, the company and union always made sure families were not hurt too severely, he said.

"Our main concern was taking care of the people while we were on strike," he said. "There was a verbal agreement with the company."

Silva echoed Kaimaile's comments: "They should have finished the job first and then settle their dispute."

IBEW employees at several HECO picket lines on Oahu yesterday said they were told to not speak with reporters and to refer questions to union leaders.

Efforts by the Star-Advertiser to reach IBEW business manager Lance Miyake over the past several days have been unsuccessful.

Miyake and other IBEW officials have said that the union chose to strike Friday afternoon because HECO President and CEO Richard Rosenblum would not meet with the union's negotiating team during the weekend.

Pai said yesterday that Rosenblum is expected to be at today's meeting with the union and federal mediator.

HECO workers have said the two sides disagreed on a management proposal to raise the age of retirement with full benefits to 62 from 60; a proposed reduction in sick leave benefits; and a plan to create a two-tier contract with new hires receiving lower wages and benefits. There also was a dispute over whether negotiated wage increases should begin with ratification of a new contract or expiration of the previous contract last October.

Neither company nor union officials would confirm the sticking points in the contract talks.

 






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