Hotel union contract is sign of prosperous future
The hotel workers union and Hilton Hotels have reached a tentative agreement on a new labor contract.
A NATIONAL strategy that was years in the making is producing worthwhile labor contracts in hotels from New York to Waikiki. Hotel companies have averted what was feared to be a nationwide strike, Hawaii's vital tourism industry appears secure and hotel workers should begin their rise to the middle class.
Unite Here, the hotel, restaurant and apparel employees union, timed its major hotel contracts to expire this year within a few months of each other. The strategy, called Hotel Workers Rising, included negotiations isolating Hilton Hotels, described by Peter Ward, president of the New York Hotel Trades Council, as "the most recalcitrant and belligerent employer in the industry."
The strategy was used in New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Honolulu. Hoteliers were concerned that Honolulu would be unfairly dragged into a national strike, although, they said, pay and working conditions are better in Honolulu than in those mainland cities.
Instead, Unite Here reached contract settlements with Hilton, followed by other hotel companies, at New York, Chicago and San Francisco. The union reached a settlement with Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles last week and with Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa in Waikiki this week. The current Boston contracts expire Nov. 30.
The tentative agreement with Hilton Hawaiian Village is likely to be ratified by some 1,500 employees covered by the union contract and then essentially copied to cover about 9,000 hotel workers statewide. Eric Gill, financial secretary of Unite Here Local 5, praised Hilton for "stepping forward and coming up with a contract that was acceptable with the union."
The union wisely chose not to abuse leverage that is unusual in today's workplace. While globalization has devastated organized labor in factories, employees in the service sector are immune to outsourcing of jobs, and Unite Here's timing of contract expirations provided exceptional strength in collective bargaining.
Unite Here and the Teamsters joined the Service Employees International Union in bolting from the AFL-CIO a year ago with promises of a more activist labor movement. That includes not only organizing more workplaces but achieving significantly better wages and benefits for those at the bottom rung of the economy.
"Our goal is to move service-sector workers into the middle class," Bruce Raynor, president of Unite Here, said in June, as contract talks with hotel companies began across the country. "The manufacturing unions did that for factory workers. It took them 20 years to do that, and we hope to do the same thing."
That is a worthy goal and a reasonable timetable. Hotels, restaurants and stores in Hawaii and across the nation should prepare for that challenge.