CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Noah Gelacio, left, and Kelalani Tan, who have mothers who work at hotels, held up signs they created yesterday at a Labor Day picnic for UNITE HERE Local 5 union members and families, held at the Laborers' International Union Hall in Palama. Noah's mother, Loke Villhermosa, is a Hilton worker. Kelalani's mother, Juanita Tan, works for the Waikiki Beach Marriott.
Hotel workers use holiday for strike preparations
Talks are still ongoing with hotels; employees share concerns of the future for keiki
The threat of a strike cast a shadow on the sunny Labor Day picnic yesterday.
UNITE HERE Local 5, the union representing 6,500 Waikiki hotel workers, held the traditional cookout for families and a few candidates followed by the political tradition of a campaign hand-shaking pass through the crowd.
But the main entertainment of the all-day event at the Laborers' International Union Hall in Palama was picket-sign painting. Union members applied red paint as stenciled signs proclaiming "Strike" and "Unfair" rolled off the press one at a time.
Local 5 is in contract negotiations with 10 of Waikiki's largest hotels, where labor contracts expired at the end of June. Employees of the Hilton Hawaiian Village and four Sheraton hotels voted Aug. 23 to authorize the negotiating team to call a strike.
With meetings continuing between the hotels and the union this week, a strike is not imminent, said Rod Kane, who has worked in the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani kitchen for 12 years. "This is getting ready for what we might need to do."
The signs, he pointed out, were generic, with the name of the employer left blank. But upstairs in the union hall, the children of members were filling in the blanks with colorful renditions of the names of the two major hotel operators.
Dolores Epan, a housekeeper at the Hilton for 18 years, said: "It's scary for me. I live from paycheck to paycheck. But we have to do this for our future."
Her coworker Luz Espejo, with 10-year-old daughter Jacqueline at her side, chimed in, "We have to do it for the future of our kids."
Monica McGurn came with her three adult children and four grandchildren to support her husband, Mike, Hilton maintenance supervisor. "The children aren't in union jobs, but they have to understand what the union is about," she said. "Hopefully, we can keep them in Hawaii. If the jobs are good here, my grandchildren won't have to move to the mainland."
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
A union member collected silk-screened signs made by other members yesterday. The signmaking activity was part of the Labor Day picnic for union members and families, put on by UNITE HERE Local 5 at Laborers' International Union Hall in Kalihi.
Eric Gill, financial secretary-treasurer, emphasized that sharing the prosperity of Hawaii's visitor industry isn't a goal for just today's workers. "We want these to be good jobs that will hold our children and grandchildren here."
The Local 5 contract talks are a piece in nationwide hotel labor negotiations. A coordinated union effort since 2001 led to simultaneous June contract expirations with hotels in San Francisco, Monterey, Chicago and other U.S. cities. The national union formerly called Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE) renamed itself UNITE HERE to identify the effort.
"For the first time, we have engagement with corporations at the highest level," Gill said. "Chicago got a contract with Hilton; that affects us here. The employers have never had this situation. It's history-making. We're learning as we go."
High-level talks and strategies didn't concern Shelby Dionne, 14, and her cousin Cierra Scanlan, 6, who colored between the lines on a big red banner that may be used on a picket line. Jeannie Scanlan said her children and their cousins were there to support her grandmother Faye Dionne, who has worked at the Sheraton Waikiki for more than 30 years.
The strike vote affects 4,100 hotel workers.
Negotiations are still open with the Hyatt Regency Waikiki, Waikiki Beach Marriott, Renaissance Ilikai Waikiki Hotel, Kahala Hotel and Ala Moana Hotel.
The Local 5 gathering, which attracted more than 500 people throughout the day, was the only Oahu union-sponsored event on the national holiday that celebrates the contributions of workers to the country's prosperity.
The state Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, stopped sponsoring its traditional picnic in recent years. Teamster Union members celebrated Sunday at the Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park in Kapolei.