Hotel workers OK strike
More than 4,000 employees could walk off the job if talks fail between the union and five major Waikiki hotels
The union that represents Hawaii hotel workers gave its negotiating team the authority to strike yesterday if talks with the Hilton Hawaiian Village and four Sheraton Hotels in Waikiki break down.
About 96 percent of workers at Hilton and 97 percent of workers at Sheraton cast an affirmative strike authorization vote. The results were received amid raucous cheering from about 100 hotel workers who remained at the Blaisdell Center.
If Hilton and Sheraton employees were to go on strike, it could heavily affect Hawaii tourism, the state's main economic driver, said Cade Watanabe, a spokesman for UNITE HERE Local 5.
Walkout not automatic
The authorization vote gives UNITE HERE Local 5 union officials the right to strike if talks break down; however, it does not necessarily mean that a strike is imminent.
If union officials opt to strike, it would affect about 1,600 workers at Hilton Hawaiian Village and 2,500 workers at the four Sheraton hotels in Waikiki.
Workers last supported a strike authorization vote in 2002, but progress in contract negotiations averted a strike. Hawaii's last major hotel strike was in 1990.
However, authorization would 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, 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 that might be affected by a strike of some 4,100 of those workers 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 is also seeking new contracts with the Hyatt, Ala Moana and Ilikai hotels -- properties that are not be covered by the strike vote, Watanabe said.
"Today's strike vote gives additional power to both the negotiating team and negotiating committee, and they intend to use that to settle a good contract," said Eric Gill, secretary-treasurer for Local 5. "The union will pursue a flexible strategy and will continue to negotiate to reach an agreement."
Hawaii's hotels believe that progress has been made recently and have pledged to continue negotiations, said Keith DeMello, a spokesman for the Laulima Council, which represents Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott hotels.
"Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott each appreciate their employees' hard work and want to continue to negotiate in good faith with the union to quickly reach a fair agreement that meets everyone's needs," he said.
The memory of previous contract struggles encouraged Kaleo Aarona, who has worked in the reservations department of Hilton Hawaiian Village for 20 years, to take her turn at the polls. Subcontracting, which has been a major sticking point this year, was also an issue in 2002, Aarona said.
"We authorized a strike vote back then, but we were able to come to the table and settle," she said. "This year, it's a big issue as well."
Aarona said that she hopes this year's negotiations will not end in a strike, but does not have much optimism.
"Nothing has been happening at the table," she said. "Hopefully, this action sends a message to management that we're willing to do whatever we need to do."
Union workers do not fear the effects of a possible strike, said Rod Kane, who has worked in food prep at the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani for 12 years.
"We're not worried about what will go on in the future," Kane said. "If we give our leaders what they need, we'll be all right."
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. "Many of these workers came to the polls to sign a pledge of solidarity," he said.
Subcontracting, wages, retirement benefits and workload remain the key sticking points that prompted members to turn out in full force for the vote, Watanabe said.
"We had a great turnout at the polls," he said. "Our members recognize that there have been drastic changes in the industry within the last four years. Most of our hotels are now operated by global corporations, and there have been significant changes that don't necessarily benefit our members."
Continued negotiations are tentatively set for tomorrow and Saturday.