Maui News

VIDEO: New HECO Contract Draws Mixed Reaction on Maui

March 10, 2011, 5:00 AM HST
* Updated March 10, 5:59 AM
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By Wendy Osher

[flashvideo file=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRJXroeafdQ /]

Some 200 union members from Maui Electric Company walked off the job on Friday. They are the first in the state to vote on a tentative contract finalized by IBEW Local 1260 officials and executives with parent company Hawaiian Electric. Photo by Wendy Osher.

Union workers at Maui Electric Company were the first to cast votes on a new tentative contract agreement covering some 1200 electric employees across the state. The Maui ratification meeting drew a standing-room-only crowd at the MECO offices in Kahului.

Reaction varied from union workers, with some saying it was time to return to work, while others stood firm in their opposition to contract details.  A small contingent returned to the picket lines after casting their vote in Kahului.

“There’s a lot of differing opinions, and so basically what they did was, the union went through the tentative agreement, there was a question and answer session, and we’re just here to see what happens,” said Sam Daunhauer, IBEW Local 1260 member, and strike captain on Maui.

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“Everybody has pros and cons, and more questions than anything else,” said Daunhauer. “I think it’s a real personal choice.  It’s a tough decision because obviously we want balance, we all want to go back to work, but we all want not to have things taken away, and it’s just a really tough decision,” said Daunhauer.

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“Personally, myself, I’m very unhappy with it,” said Christopher Cunkelman, a jouneyman and lineman at MECO.

“Yes, I make good money, but I work with something that can kill you every day.  You can’t smell it, you can’t taste it, you can’t hear it, you can’t feel it, but it can kill you.  I’ll show you my burns from it, right there on my arm,” said Cunkelman, who was among those who returned to the picket line after casting his vote.

Some 200 union members from Maui Electric Company walked off the job on Friday. They are the first in the state to vote on a tentative contract finalized by IBEW Local 1260 officials and executives with parent company Hawaiian Electric. Photo by Wendy Osher.

“It’s like you start a race, and they keep moving the finish line further and further on you.  It starts out at a 5K, then it turns into a 10K, then it’s a 15 K, now it’s a 20 K.  It’s like back to plantation or company store days.  They want you to work till you’re dead, then keep the money and call it even,” said Cunkelman.

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Still others had a more positive outlook.  “I felt it was pretty much more on the positive end,” said Eugene Caravalho, a control operator at the Maalaea Power Plant.

“I see a lot of smiling faces, and hopefully we can all get back to work,” said Caravalho.

MECO officials were not available for comment following the Maui ratification vote.

The vote now heads to union members with Hawaiian Electric Industries on the Big Island on Thursday, and union workers at Hawaiian Electric on Oahu on Friday.

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