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Labor Union Files Grievance Over Rail Project Layoffs

Catherine Cruz

HONOLULU -- Hawai‘i's largest labor union has filed a grievance over recent layoffs by the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, which is building a delayed and beleaguered commuter rail line project.The Hawai‘i Government Employees Association said the agency has laid off dozens of staffers and contract workers since Lori Kahikina assumed her role as interim CEO in January, Hawaii News Now reported Saturday.

The union said the authority should have provided workers with 90 days notice. It is asking for reinstatement of the laid-off workers, the restoral of lost wages and at least a 90-day notification for future layoffs.

Authority spokesman Joey Manahan said the rail authority has not yet reviewed the union's grievance.

City officials broke ground for the commuter rail system in 2011, estimating it would cost $5.5 billion to build the 20-mile (34-kilometer) line in eight years.

Last year, the transportation authority raised the cost estimate to $9.1 billion and the city said it wouldn’t be completed until 2033. Officials have blamed ballooning costs on construction delays, financing problems and low initial cost estimates.

Kahikina was certain that the layoffs were needed, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said.

“In my discussions with Lori Kahikina who is the new CEO -- she seems adamant that the new decisions that have been made have been in the best interest in the project,” Blangiardi said. “There was a feeling from the evaluations being made that we had a lot of redundancies.”

The authority declined to provide Hawaii News Now with the number of employees and contractors that have been laid off since Kahikina took over.

The rail line is envisioned as running from Honolulu’s western suburbs to downtown and Ala Moana, the site of the city’s biggest shopping center and a bus transit hub. Supporters hope the train will prevent chronically heavy commuter traffic on the city's freeways from getting worse.

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