Hotels, union closer to agreement
Despite progress, Local 5 will go on with a strike authorization vote
The union that represents Hawaii hotel workers is still gearing up for a strike authorization vote tomorrow covering the Hilton Hawaiian Village and four Sheraton hotels in Waikiki, despite progress that was made during a recent round of talks.
Workers are slated to cast their votes at Blaisdell Arena from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. A strike could ensue if more than half of the workers vote to authorize it, but it would be up to union officials to schedule the action, said Cade Watanabe, a spokesman for Unite Here Local 5.
"There was some positive movement, but there is a lot of work yet to be done at the bargaining table," Watanabe said. "We still need to iron out lots of details."
If the 1,600 or so Hilton workers and the 2,500 Sheraton employees were to go on strike, it could heavily impact Hawaii tourism, the state's main economic driver. However, authorization does not necessarily lead to a strike: In 2002, Local 5 members approved a strike against Hilton Hawaiian Village and Sheraton but problems were worked out before events came to a head.
Though Local 5 just ended a three-year boycott of the Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore, the union has not been involved in a major strike since 1990, when workers went on strike for 22 days, Watanabe said.
Contracts for approximately 6,500 Local 5 hotel workers employed in 10 of Waikiki's largest hotels expired at the end of June. The hotels affected include Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa, Hyatt Regency Waikiki Resort & Spa, Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, Renaissance Ilikai Waikiki Hotel and Sheraton Hotels in Waikiki.
Local 5 also is seeking new contracts with the Hyatt, Ala Moana and Ilikai hotels, though those properties would not be covered by the strike vote, Watanabe said.
Representatives of Hilton Hawaiian Village and Local 5 were encouraged by progress achieved in negotiations this past Friday and Saturday, said Gary Seibert, area vice president and managing director for Hilton Hawaii.
"These two days of negotiations and sessions have been the most productive since bargaining started in June and are a testament to what can be done if the parties work together in the spirit of cooperation," Seibert said.
Local 5 reacted favorably to Hilton's proposal to reduce the workload for housekeepers and the union, he said. Seibert said several other agreements are pending, including:
» Medical and pension benefits for employees and dependents on military leave ;
» Bereavement leave for domestic partners;
» Non-discrimination language;
» Diversity and immigration language; and
» Procedures for discussing concerns about uniform fit, comfort, style and safety.
Though some progress has been made with Hilton and Sheraton, retirement benefits remain a key sticking point, Watanabe said.
"We've held about a dozen protests at various properties," Watanabe said.
While Hawaii is second among the top 25 hospitality markets in the United States and ranks among the top tourist destinations in the world, service wages don't reflect the prosperity of the industry, he said.
Other union concerns include protection from subcontracting, job security for military personnel who are called to action, and how to cope with an ever-increasing workload, Watanabe said.
Further negotiations between Hilton and Local 5 are tentatively set for the week of Aug. 28, he said.
Local 5 will meet with the Hyatt Regency Waikiki on Aug. 24 and 25 and is discussing September dates with the Waikiki Beach Marriott.