Tuesday, May 8, 2001

At Neal Blaisdell Center yesterday, hotel workers came out
smiling about their new contract, but some had reservations.

Hotel workers
union now focuses
on subcontracting

The new contract bars
subcontracting until March,
but after that there is
no guarantee

By Treena Shapiro

Unionized workers from six Waikiki hotels were happy yesterday that a tentative agreement averted a strike this week.

But some workers, particularly at the Hilton, are concerned that the subcontracting issue may still lead to a strike in the future.

The new contract bars subcontracting in all forms until it ends on Feb. 28, 2002, but the question remains whether Hilton will give a long-term guarantee to end subcontracting when negotiations resume in a few months for the next contract.

The agreement reached yesterday will give workers at least an 85-cent raise over two years, retroactive to March 1, 2000. Union workers can expect to get a $800 to $1,200 check for retroactive pay raises equal to 40 cents per hour or 3 percent, whichever is higher, for March 1, 2000, to Feb. 28, 2001, as well as an additional 45 cents for each hour worked from March 1 to when the contract goes into effect. The average hourly wage for nontipped workers is $14.19.

Tipped workers will receive a 25-cent raise covering the same two-year period.

The tentative agreement covers roughly 5,000 members of Local 5 of the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees, AFL-CIO at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki, Sheraton-Waikiki, Royal Hawaiian, Sheraton Moana Surfrider, Sheraton Princess Kaiulani and Hilton Hawaiian Village hotels, all members of the Hawaii Council of Hotels. A ratification vote will likely take place next week.

Because Sheraton employs few subcontractors, the company may have the union negotiate its next contract separately from the other hotels and may have until the contract expires to pull out of the Council, according to Tony Rutledge, a member of Local 5 negotiating team.

Sheraton is more of a management company, whereas "Hilton is not only the management company, but they're the owner, so they're looking ... at what's best with operating economically," Rutledge said.

Consequently, as union members left a meeting yesterday morning at the Neal Blaisdell Center, Sheraton workers were cheerful, and Hilton workers continued to grumble about the tentative agreement.

"I'm happy about it," said Sergio Caneso, a food prep worker at the Sheraton-Waikiki. "We appreciate (that) the management ... cares about the employees."

A housekeeper at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, who asked to not be identified, said the pay raises were well deserved.

"We all like make more money. We deserve it. We all work hard, especially in housekeeping. We go that extra mile for the guests," she said.

But the real issue is subcontracting. After working at the Hilton for 11 years, she earns $11.83 an hour and is worried that she will lose her job to someone willing to work for $7.

"They're bringing in people with lower pay and taking away our jobs," she said, adding that "the lower your seniority, the more chance you get of being knocked around."

Local 5 negotiator Eric Gill said that the contract would give both sides some breathing room, but major issues will have to be addressed during the next round of negotiations.

"The problem with this settlement, of course, is that it leaves some very, very important issues unresolved in the long term," he said. Although the pay raises keep the hotel and restaurant workers on par with the national norm, the union will try to exact guarantees on subcontracting from all the hotels. Brian Akule, a steward at the Hilton, called his hotel the problem child.

"They're the ones that were holding everything up. The negotiating team did a good job, and we're satisfied with what we got right now, but in a few months we're going to have to start fighting the subcontractors for next year's contract," Akule said. "Anywhere you work at the Hilton is vulnerable to subcontracts."

Eugene Epson, a steward at the Hyatt, said he was relieved to have a contract and a raise, but he is looking forward to the union winning bigger gains in regard to subcontracting in the next contract, he said.

"To me," he said, "job security is more important than a raise."

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