Saturday, October 30, 2004

S.F. union dispute
disrupts 2 Waikiki

The Sheraton Waikiki and Royal Hawaiian hotels had to cut room service and assign some housekeeping and kitchen duties to managers yesterday after many union workers went home instead of crossing a one-day picket line set up by a San Francisco-based sister union.

Locked-out hotel workers from the Sheraton Palace hotel in San Francisco picketed employee entrances at both Waikiki hotels for most of yesterday, but the move elicited more complaints from union workers than guests, said Keith Vieira, senior vice president of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. in Hawaii. The company operates the Sheraton and Westin chains.

"We had employees that were upset and crying," Vieira said. "Many of them felt they were under pressure to honor a picket line that didn't really concern them. It really placed them in an awkward position."

Some 4,000 hotel workers, members of UNITE HERE Local 2, have been locked out of their jobs by 14 hotels in San Francisco. The union is a sister to Hawaii's Local 5 workers union.

The Waikiki picket was expected to end last night.

The Waikiki Sheratons, which are owned by Japan-based Kyo-ya Co., were chosen as Hawaii picket locations because the Waikiki hotels sent managers and nonunion workers to San Francisco to act as strike breakers, said Mike Casey, president of Local 2.

"Starwood and Kyo-ya have taken the lead in locking out members in San Francisco," Casey said. "We're fighting for our lives and we can't let the fight be contained to San Francisco."

By sending workers to California to operate hotels after the lockout, Starwood was just trying to protect workers' jobs by keeping the properties operating, Vieira said.

"If word of this picket gets out, I worry about Hawaii as a whole," Vieira said. "We don't need anything negative at a time when the state's visitor industry has started to rebound. It's irresponsible for the union to put the industry on the line."

While Local 5 workers at the Waikiki Sheratons were not part of the picket, the members have the right under their contract not to cross the picket line and voluntarily take a day's unpaid leave without being disciplined, said Jason Ward, spokesman for Local 5.

Hawaii's hotel union workers support hotel workers in San Francisco because "their fight is our fight," said Eric Gill, financial secretary-treasurer of Local 5.

If hotel workers in San Francisco are forced to pay for medical coverage, then Hawaii hotel workers could be next, Gill said.

Hawaii hotel workers union members also support the efforts of hotel workers in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., to negotiate all of their contracts at the same time in 2006, he said.

The union estimates that at least 90 percent of its work force stayed home, Ward said, though the hotels said the percentage was lower.

While the picket was small, it had broad impacts for union workers, managers and for guests who were staying at Waikiki hotels in range of the noise, Ward said.

"It got the point across," he said.

Even Gov. Linda Lingle was not immune to its effects, he said. The governor was inside the Royal Hawaiian Hotel yesterday delivering remarks at a luncheon to honor firefighters.

"It's our hope that Starwood and Kyo-ya have learned a lesson and that their managers, who were forced to work for our members, will realize how hard they work," Ward said.

Although Local 2's picket was noisy, with about 20 workers from the Sheraton Palace hotel carrying megaphones and shouting, most of Sheraton's Waikiki guests were insulated from commotion because the picket took place behind the Sheraton properties, Vieira said.

"There were more complaints from guests at the Halekulani and the Waikiki Park Hotel," said David Uchiyama, regional director of communications for Starwood in Hawaii.



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