Teamsters strike Hawaii Gas after contract talks fail

Jun. 1—The strike could have statewide implications for all gas users, from residents to the military to businesses.

More than 200 unionized Hawaii Gas employees across the state have begun a strike against the utility as contract negotiations failed to reach an agreement.

The strike began at 12 :01 a.m. today at seven locations across Hawaii, including three on Oahu, according to Hawaii Teamsters and Allied Workers, Local 996.

The union and the utility, but union President Kevin Holu said that the union has unsuccessfully tried to communicate with Hawaii Gas since May 11. Hawaii Gas said it made a final offer on May 30, but it was inadequate for the union.

"We tried to get them back to the table multiple times, but they didn't want to do it until we commenced the strike, " Holu said this morning. "They did reach out yesterday trying to settle. I'm willing to settle and get back to the table and give our members what they rightfully deserve : fair wages and fair medical (costs ). Our members, from what they're offering, are paying to go back to work because of medical costs."

Around 60 employees were at the Hawaii Gas location on Kamakee Street this morning for the strike. Some were sign-waving at the building's entrances, but others could be seen at the intersection of Kamakee Street and Kapiolani Boulevard.

The unionized employees include clerical workers, drivers and "technical and distribution " workers. Many of the employees at the Kamakee Street location do maintenance and service on pipes and other equipment, shop steward Ka'ai Conradt said.

"We fix the leaks, we do all the maintenance on residential, commercial ... meters, underground pipelines, " he said. "Middle of the night, if there's a leak, it's our guys from this location that go out and handle it."

The strike could have statewide implications for all gas users, from residents to the military to businesses.

There have been concerns that Hawaii's visitor industry, which depends on gas for cooking, house cleaning services and hotel generators could be impacted by the strike.

The Hawaii Gas plant at Campbell Industrial Park can't run for very long without workers before services become affected, according to the union.

"The SNG (synthetic natural gas ) plant itself can only run for 10 hours unmanned. If the pressure drops too low, gas from Kapolei to Hawaii Kai will be shut off, " said Kingsley Lei, the lead contract negotiator for Hawaii Teamsters.

On Wednesday, Hawaii Gas told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that it "has contingency plans in place to reduce the impact to customers " in the event of a strike.

Conradt said the strike was largely supported by union staff, with 161 voting for it and seven voting against.

"It's time to stand up for our rights. We're out here every day putting in all these hours, sacrificing our bodies for the company, " Conradt said.

Hawaii Gas says it is the state's only franchised gas utility and its largest propane distribution business.