Dayton Nakanelua, state director of the United Public Workers union in Hawaii, has been removed from his position along with another UPW administrator after failing to fix problems related to the union’s fiscal mismanagement.

Lee Saunders, president of the UPW’s parent union, AFSCME, announced the ouster of Nakanelua and Jeanne Endo, a finance and membership administrator, in a letter to Hawaii union members Friday morning.

Liz Ho, head of the national union’s local office on Oahu, will take over as UPW administrator.

Saunders says in the letter that UPW’s Hawaii office has suffered too long from deficient financial oversight.

UPW State Director Dayton Nakanelua and their membership endorses Governor David Ige 2018 campaign during press event today.
Dayton Nakanelua, pictured in 2018 at a rally for Gov. David Ige, is out as head of the United Public Workers union after an audit found financial abuse at UPW. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“You have a right to transparency, and you should have full faith that your dues money is being managed wisely,” Saunders says in the letter. “I will not stand for anyone breaking this trust.”

The decision to remove Nakanelua stems from an audit the national union completed last year that found UPW’s finances were ripe for abuse.

It found that Nakanelua and other union members made over $21,000 of credit card charges that were not properly documented. In another instance, Endo received reimbursements for the personal purchase of a $3,000 Apple computer.

The audit also found over $290,000 spent on airfare between 2017 and 2019 that was not properly documented. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported the audit’s findings in February.

UPW offices were closed due to the coronavirus, and Nakanelua couldn’t be reached for comment.

In the newspaper’s story from February, Nakanelua acknowledged the deficiencies and accepted responsibility for them. Saunders’ letter also says Nakanelua agreed to remedy those deficiencies, but the parent union’s judicial panel found, after a trial, that he did not.

Nakanelua took over leadership of the union almost two decades ago after his predecessor, Gary Rodrigues, was found guilty on federal charges and on embezzling money from UPW.

UPW’s executive board will continue on in an advisory role while Ho is administrator, according to Saunders’ letter. The union represents 13,000 public workers in Hawaii.

“You deserve better from your union, and you will get it,” Saunders said in the letter.

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