Hotel workersBy Leila Fujimori
wary of job cuts march to
MARIA Salantes, a housekeeper at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, says 40 people in her department lost their jobs and were replaced with nonunion workers at $7 an hour. The 18-year employee fears losing her $11.79-an-hour job.
"We're just protecting our jobs; they're trying to replace us with new people," said Salantes.
Salantes and about 1,500 other Hawaii Hotel Workers Union members protested the practice of subcontracting with signs and banners along Kalakaua Avenue, Kalia Street and Ala Moana last evening.
Members of Local 5 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees union from several Waikiki hotels marched to the beach behind the Hilton, where they rallied for job security, while many Lions Club convention attendees walked the Waikiki sidewalks.
The members have been without a contract since March 1, and negotiations are ongoing.
The union emphasized the rally was not a strike, but was to focus on the contract proposal to eliminate subcontracting of hotel union jobs.
Hilton attorney Bob Katz called the rally a "negotiations ploy." Subcontracting has been going on in the industry for years, he said.
"To be competitive, it's necessary in some instances," due to employees not having the skills, time or equipment needed to do the work, Katz said.
He said it's part of the "economic reality Waikiki has faced in the last 10 year."
Katz was unaware of any recent layoffs of union members replaced by nonunion workers, despite the buzz among rallying members from other hotels that subcontracting has happened at the Hilton.
After spending $40,000 attending the Culinary Institute of America, Rohitashva Sharma was promoted to second cook at the Hilton and got a raise. But the same week he said the hotel was acquiring property and began building another tower, his title and pay were cut.
"It's the same job, less pay," Sharma said.
He sees a lot of subcontracting, but does not favor a strike because "in a strike, everyone loses."
Union head Eric Gill rallied the crowd, saying they need to "close the door on subcontracting," as well as address other concerns, but acknowledged not all problems can be solved at once.
"We are defending our jobs," said Gill, "but we are also defending Hawaii's economy."
Gill said Hawaii's taxpayers have supported the visitor industry, and it has promised good jobs in return.
"When our hotels subcontract our work, they turn good jobs into lousy jobs," said Gill. "This reduces the total income into our community and starves Hawaii's economy."