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Friday, March 24, 2000

Hotel workers’
union fights over
leadership, contract

The ongoing election has
complicated talks with

By Russ Lynch


The union representing 4,500 island hotel workers is trying to thrash out a new contract with Hawaii's major hotels while its own leadership is caught up in a fierce fight over who will head the union.

The current leader of the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees Local 5, financial secretary-treasurer Tony Rutledge, says the hotels are stalling in the contract talks in hopes that the union will elect someone easier to deal with, challenger Eric Gill.

Gill calls that statement nonsense and says it was Rutledge who stalled the contract talks in the first place, deliberately delaying until election time so he could use the negotiations to help him keep his position.

The election ballots were mailed March 16 and are to be counted April 16.

Attorney Robert Katz, who heads the bargaining team for the management of the Hilton, Sheraton and Hyatt hotels, declined to comment on the internal affairs of the union but said that "the union election really has no impact or role" in the contract talks. He said the two sides "are in negotiations," although no meetings are scheduled.

Several individual hotels, such as the Renaissance Ilikai Waikiki, the Ala Moana Hotel and the Kahala Mandarin Oriental, have said they will adopt the pact thrashed out by the chains.

The dispute within Local 5 involves two separate issues. One is the union contract for hotel employees, to replace the five-year pact that expired March 1. So far there has been only one negotiating session, on March 17 with the old contract still effective.

The second issue is the election for Local 5 leadership in which Gill is challenging Rutledge. Gill won a court ruling in December that negated a 1998 election in which the court found Gill was illegally prevented from running against Rutledge.

Gill issued a statement earlier this week accusing Rutledge of illegally using union funds, employees and equipment for his campaign. Gill said a complaint has been filed with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Meanwhile, Rutledge sent a notice to union members that the employers "are stalling until after the election."

"It is clear to the union's negotiations committee that the employers don't want to negotiate until after the election in the hopes that they can face a weak leader rather than Tony Rutledge," said the notice, which also pointed out that Rutledge has been in the thick of hotel negotiations for 25 years.

"A vote for the Rutledge slate is a vote for a good contract," the notice said.

Rutledge campaign materials also have accused Gill of lying.

Gill, a hotel kitchen worker who also works with Hawaii Teamsters Local 996, circulated a press release accusing Rutledge of doing the stalling.

Rutledge has known for five years that the contract would expire March 1 yet he called only one negotiating session with management after that and the timing was suspicious because it was right as election ballots were being mailed, Gill said.

"What shows clearly here is that Rutledge is desperately flip-flopping, trying to scare union members into voting for him," Gill's statement said. "Any contract negotiation crisis he contrives will be nothing more than an election trick."

In an interview yesterday, Gill said Rutledge is "basically manipulating the whole thing" and that, faced with the "false crisis" Rutledge is creating, it is common sense for management to stay out of it and wait for the election.

"Why would they want to settle? They'll just be accused of taking sides" and then have to work in the future with whatever leadership is elected, Gill said.

Rutledge said in an interview that Gill is "a confused fella" and if he has a complaint about Rutledge's conduct "he should file his complaint with the Department of Labor. That's what they're there for." Also, Rutledge said, Gill's charge of misuse of union facilities for election purposes is not true.

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