Sunday, May 22, 2005

Union pickets
at Turtle Bay hotel

A daylong protest hits the
no-vacancy North Shore resort

Turtle Bay Resort employees picketed the lush property yesterday in a one-day strike to protest what they call "abusive" working conditions.

Three employees walked off the job at about 3 a.m. and were joined by co-workers during the day. The bargaining unit has about 310 members.

Managers of the North Shore beachfront resort were notified at 3 a.m. that the strike would continue all day unless health, safety and workload issues were addressed.

Employees planned to begin going back to work at 11:59 p.m., even if issues weren't resolved.

Jason Ward, spokesman for Local 5 of the hotel workers' union, UNITE HERE, said the strike was to call attention to specific health and safety problems for workers in housekeeping and laundry areas and the hotel's Palm Terrace restaurant.

Abid Butt, Turtle Bay vice president and general manager, said only one of the grievances had been discussed in bargaining. "The others came up at 3 a.m."

He said the issues will be reviewed and "we will attend to them in favor of the employees. We are committed to making sure the staff's work environment is a safe one."

Butt said the hotel's 443 rooms were filled to capacity yesterday with a couple of conventions and weddings going on and "a good majority of staff" did show up for work.

The union said about 170 workers turned out on the picket line.

The employees have no union contract, last renewed in 1999, and the union and hotel management have been in dispute for several years over contract issues. The union called for a consumer boycott of the hotel in 2003.

Housekeeper Ceserina Domingo, who has worked nearly 29 years at Turtle Bay, said sometimes she has up to 20 rooms to clean despite a written policy limiting the number to 15.

She said she's "crawling at the end of the day" from overwork. "I don't have a degree and just hang on. We're praying (for changes). That's why we're here."

The resort was purchased by Oaktree Capital Management of Los Angeles in 2001 and is operated by Texas-based Benchmark Management Co., which spent more than $60 million on renovations.

But "they didn't plan a lot of things," said George Cox, maintenance worker at the hotel for almost 23 years and union shop steward.

For example, he said rolling carts were eliminated in the restaurant so workers have to carry everything on a tray, causing a lot of injuries.

Folks in the laundry also are "working under extreme conditions," he said, such as static shock, high temperatures, poor ventilation and exhaust fumes.

Cox was one of the three who began picketing at 3 a.m. "It (Turtle Bay) is just a jewel of a piece of property," he said. "We work so hard; we try to make a difference for the owners and management, but they're not listening to us."

Said Butt: "The staff has been with us a long time. They've done a great job. My hopes are that we get this behind us and get to building the business that will protect everyone's jobs."

HERE Local 5
www.herelocal5.org/ Turtle Bay Resort

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