Waterfront Whistleblower Waits For $355,000 In Back Pay

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BY JIM DOOLEY – Rocky Tahara is still waiting for his money.

Tahara was beaten and partially blinded by a fellow stevedore in 1994, then spent nearly two years in witness protection on the Mainland while Honolulu police and the FBI investigated waterfront corruption here.

Quentin "Rocky" Tahara

The assault occurred after Tahara reported that some dockworkers were being paid for work they didn’t perform.

When Tahara returned, his employer, stevedoring company McCabe, Hamilton & Renny, first refused to hire him back, claiming that he had “abandoned” his job.

Then the company wouldn’t restore his seniority and other benefits.

Tahara filed a grievance through his union, ILWU Local 142, and won an arbitrator’s judgment against the company in 1999.

The arbitrator, Ted Tsukiyama, said Tahara had suffered “a savage life-threatening beating and lifetime visual disability, (and) a transfer to a clerk job he was ill-suited for.”

“But for his courageous act of ‘whistleblowing’ and the dire consequences that followed, he … would have suffered no financial cost and emotional anguish while in involuntary witness protection program isolation,” Tsukiyama found.

“In recognition for all his sacrifices he should have been afforded a hero’s welcome at his attempted return to work, but instead was met as an unwanted outcast by his employers and his peers,” the arbitrator ruled.

Tsukiyama directed the union and McCabe to settle on the amount owed to Tahara. After more than six years of disagreement, the parties went back to Tsukiyama and asked him to decide the number.

He ruled that Tahara was owed $355,580.99. Federal District Judge Helen Gilmor confirmed that award in 2008.

Tahara has been paid nothing.

McCabe appealed the ruling, calling it “wayward,” and  has engaged in protracted new settlement talks with the union.

This week, Tahara filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board against the ILWU.

“The labor organization has refused to enforce an arbitration award for back pay owed,” the complaint said.

Union attorney Danel Purtell and McCabe lawyer Christopher Yeh did not respond to requests for comment.

In 2009, McCabe and the union said in federal court papers that the company was in financial difficulties and couldn’t afford to pay the award.

Tahara’s lawyer, Jay Friedheim, said that for the past year, union attorney Purtell has repeatedly said that the matter was close to resolution.

“But nothing has happened. It’s a new version of waterboarding,” said Friedheim.

“Rocky didn’t want to do this,” Friedheim said if the NLRB complaint.

“He’s been so patient but he just got tired of waiting.”