Longtime corrections officer Kalani Werner won a runoff union election Tuesday evening to become the new state director of the United Public Workers, one of the most prominent public worker unions in the state.

The union has about 11,000 voting members, but turnout in the runoff election was extremely low. The final vote count was 437 votes for Werner, and 304 for Alton Nosaka, a former business agent for the union.

This union election marks the first time the UPW Local 646 general membership has been allowed to vote directly to select a new state director.

Darrell Wilcox, who is also a corrections officer at OCCC, was elected as the new UPW president. Junior Moananu, a psychiatric technician at Hawaii State Hospital, was elected secretary-treasurer.

The runoff election was held after none of a larger field of candidates was able to secure 50% of the vote in balloting in November. The field was narrowed to just two candidates for each office in the runoff.

Werner worked at the Oahu Community Correctional Center during the pandemic, and according to news accounts was one of the first corrections officers there to become ill with Covid-19 in 2020.

The runoff election is seen as pivotal because it determined the new leadership of the union after longtime State Director Dayton Nakanelua was removed from office in 2020 after a scathing audit of union finances.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees then appointed Liz Ho as a temporary administrator of the union. Ho reported to AFSCME that the election is a critical step in allowing the union to emerge from administratorship.

UPW represents blue-collar workers in state and county governments such as parks, highway and building maintenance employees, and also represents state corrections officers along with workers at both private and public hospitals.

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