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July/August 2002 IBEW Journal

Labor Movement Arrives on Guam

Until that recent IBEW Local 1260 victory in the 900-worker unit at Navy contractor Raytheon Technical Services, employers for the most part enjoyed free reign over human resources on Guam. The powerful Guam Employers Councilwhose web site offers advice on "How to Get Rid of an Unwanted Union" with a link to the National Right-to-Work Committeehad been easily able to beat back nascent workers rights efforts. The employers council also strong-armed the territorial legislature into passing a right-to-work law in 2000. But since the passage of that law, Republicans have lost seats on the legislature and the tide could be turning in favor of pro-worker efforts, thanks to the crucial Local 1260 win.

As with any serious organizing campaign, Honolulus Local 1260 under Business Manager Harry Kameenui took a chance when it decided to try to unionize the workers at Raytheon two years ago. The former naval base would soon be privatized and Raytheon was a leading bidder for the contract. Kameenui sent two organizers to Guam. "We found that it would not be an easy task because the workers lacked an understanding of unions like the IBEW," Kameenui said.

Their challenges were compounded by the 4,000-mile distance from Guam and the skepticism of an insular community generally distrustful of strangers. The company played into that fear by portraying itself as a paternalistic ("well take care of you") extended family to the workers on one hand while employing aggressive, union-busting professionals to scare them from voting for union representation on the other.

The ideological battle played out in the months leading up to the January election.

The Navy contractor at Communications Naval Station Marianas, the second largest employer on the island, had made a practice of limiting employees hours to 32 a week to avoid paying benefits to the support workers employed in base operations. In spite of the aggressive anti-union rhetoric, the IBEW won among workers who range from electricians to plumbers to carpenters to food service workers.

Brian Ahakuelo, assistant business manager for Local 1260 and its primary organizer on Guam, said the union prevailed in a struggle for the hearts and minds of the islanders.

"Its a matter of selling a way of life," Ahakuelo said. "For us, we believe it because we live it every day. We had to show these people that theres a better life out there." The National Labor Relations Board-certified election win was the largest organizing victory in the recent history of the IBEWs Ninth District.

"Its going to open the door for other unions on Guam, not just the IBEW," Ahakuelo said.

The naval base is proving to be ripe ground for Local 1260 organizers, who quickly organized a group of 200 food service workers employed by Sodexo Marriott. The company, which contracts for all food service at three naval facilities on the island, is likely to recognize the union soon, Ahakuelo said. The victories more than double the number of union-represented workers on Guam.

Local 1260 has also petitioned for an NLRB election for 45 utility workers at Communications Naval Station Marianas employed by SET PACIFIC, a Nevada-based firm that provides utility generation and maintenance support for the base. Ahakuelo said they are awaiting a decision from the NLRB on an unfair labor practice charge the local filed after the company fired a union organizer. After that, they are looking at the Earth Tech wastewater treatment plant workers on Communications Naval Station Marianas and ordnance workers employed by Human Factors Applications. Ahakuelo predicted his local alone could have between new 1,000 and 1,200 workers in Guam within a couple of years.

With the help of a full-time organizer on Guam, Local 1357 has received more than 200 signed cards from workers at the Guam Telephone Authority. Business Manager Dias said the local is hoping for company recognition of Local 1357 without an election by the 350 workers designated as the bargaining unit.

And Dias said he is not stopping there. He said Local 1357 is eyeing a 200-worker unit of porters, 400 dockworkers and a group of sanitation workers.

Saipan workers at Local 1357s Micronesian Telecommunications Corporation, now a division of Verizon, unanimously ratified a new three-year bargaining agreement in late 2001. Local 1357 is actively working to organize other units in Saipan, including 600 teachers and duty free workers, Dias said.

"We want to accomplish each one in stages and not spread ourselves too thin," Dias said.

Ninth District Vice President Michael Mowrey said the international officers recognized the importance of reaching out to the workers on Guam and Saipan, providing financial assistance to bridge what might otherwise have been a prohibitive distance. "Both the locals felt it was important to respond to a need by workers who were being mistreated."

Charles McAlister, a Guam resident working as an organizer for Local 1357, said his efforts have been successful because of his status as a local. "People have been trying to organize Guam for years," said McAlister, who was introduced to the IBEW by organizer Johnny Han. "But they have not been successful because they are perceived as outsiders. Its important to understand the island culture and its nuances. You have to know the people and theyve got to trust you."

Other unions with locals on Guam include the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees. The Central Labor Council of the Western Pacific, AFL-CIO, has been reenergized recently to give the labor movement a coordinated voice on the island. McAlister, a former public school teacher on Saipan who grew up on Guam and Hawaii, serves as its vice president.

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Guam & Saipan:

part 1

part 2

part 3


Local 1260 Reaches Guam Agreement