Friday, January 21, 2005

Workers sign
petition to end
union boycott
at Turtle Bay

The credibility of the petition
is in dispute, however, as
Local 5 says the resort
orchestrated the move

Some union workers at the Turtle Bay Resort, the only hotel on the Oahu North Shore, have signed a petition to end a consumer boycott that employees launched against the resort in the fall of 2003 after contract negotiations failed.

The workers presented a petition yesterday to Eric Gill, financial secretary-treasurer of the hotel workers union Local 5, requesting that the union cease its boycott efforts.

The resort says half of its 250 union employees signed the petition, but union officials say they cannot verify the number of signatures and the union has no plans to end the boycott.

In a letter delivered to Gill with the petition, the employees stated: "By attempting to drive Turtle Bay out of business, you are only hurting us. A majority of us want the boycott to end."

Union workers launched their boycott in November 2003. Turtle Bay employees -- by a 92 percent margin -- voted to endorse the action, said Jason Ward, spokesman for Local 5.

The union has been organizing sign waving near the resort as well as a direct-mail campaign to the resort's corporate customers.

The boycott, endorsed by the AFL-CIO last year, will continue until a contract agreement is reached, Ward said.

"We doubt the credibility of this petition. It's just a bunch of squiggly lines on a piece of paper -- most of it is illegible," Ward said.

Union members have not expressed displeasure with the boycott at any of their meetings, which take place every other week, Ward said, adding that the petition was likely orchestrated by resort management.

"We've had no indication that this petition represents the sentiment of our members," Ward said. "We will attempt to verify the signatures and if it's warranted, we could take another secret ballot vote on the boycott."

The resort's management did not use its influence to get employees to sign the petition, said Abid Butt, general manager of the Turtle Bay, which is owned by Oaktree Capital Management LLC of Los Angeles and managed by Texas-based Benchmark Hospitality.

"It's absolutely outrageous that they would say something like this," Butt said. "I'm thrilled that the staff has recognized what benefits them and their livelihood. They need to stand up for what they believe is right and wrong, and this is a good step."

The fact that Turtle Bay management distributed a press release about the petition and the resort's San Diego attorney Robert Murphy sent union leaders a letter about the petition the same day it was presented to Local 5 is suspect, Ward said. Management-union relations at the Turtle Bay have been strained for some time, he said.

Last year, falling occupancy rates at the Turtle Bay, due to the ongoing labor dispute, prompted management to threaten to close the property and to implement cuts to guest services.

While half of Turtle Bay union members are said to have signed the petition, many employees claimed they knew nothing about it, said Stephen Dela Cruz, general maintenance worker at Turtle Bay for 27 years,

"I just heard about the petition this afternoon. I didn't even know one was going around," Dela Cruz said. "I wouldn't put much into it. I think the numbers must include management and nonunion workers. Maybe even some people who don't work there."

Brenda Orr, a longtime North Shore resident and Turtle Bay employee who voted against the boycott, said the resort's recent cutbacks resulted in reduced hours for some employees.

"Now people are seeing that the boycott is affecting business at Turtle Bay, which affects their jobs and livelihood," said Orr, who has worked at Turtle Bay for the past 17 years. "It also affects the whole community."

Local 5 represents 11,000 workers in Hawaii and has recently settled contracts with major hotels covering almost 7,000 workers. But despite the year-plus boycott at Turtle Bay, outstanding contract issues remain, including the length of the union contract and subcontracting, Ward said.

Turtle Bay Resort
HERE Local 5

E-mail to Business Desk


© Honolulu Star-Bulletin -- http://archives.starbulletin.com