Turtle Bay threatens
to close hotel

A union contract dispute
is escalating at the resort

Falling occupancy rates at the Turtle Bay Resort amid an ongoing labor dispute has prompted management at the North Shore's only hotel to cut visitor services, close some guest-room floors and threaten to close the property.

On Sunday, the 443-room resort began reducing food-and-beverage service and closed some floors, according to a memo sent to employees by Abid Butt, general manager of Turtle Bay Resort. The property is owned by Oaktree Capital Management LLC of Los Angeles and managed by Texas-based Benchmark Hospitality.

While Turtle Bay Resort enjoyed a phenomenal summer after undergoing a $60 million renovation and repositioning, a seasonal occupancy dip this fall coupled with a union boycott has resulted in the need for cost containment, Butt said in a telephone interview yesterday.

The cutbacks are the newest development in a long struggle between union workers and managers at the resort. The 250 workers represented by the union called for a consumer boycott of the hotel late last year after contract negotiations failed. Turtle Bay workers voted by a 92 percent margin to endorse a boycott, which began in November 2003, said Jason Ward, spokesman for Local 5.

"The boycott appears to be gaining momentum and continues to have the strong support of the Turtle Bay workers," Ward said.

Local 5 represents 11,000 workers in Hawaii and has recently settled contracts with major hotels covering almost 7,000 workers. But despite the year-long boycott at Turtle Bay, contract issues remain unsettled, including the length of the contract and subcontracting, Ward said.

The boycott will continue until an agreement is reached on the contract, Ward said.

The national AFL-CIO formally endorsed the boycott last month. Also, the National Labor Relations Board is investigating complaints made by the union, Ward said.

Turtle Bay has repeatedly asked the union to end the boycott, Butt said in the memo to employees, adding that a successful boycott only means "less work for each of you."

The hotel's clients and travel partners have been supportive during the renovation process and the union boycott, Butt said, but the hotel has lost some business.

"It's difficult to quantify the impact, but even if one room night has been canceled, it's for the wrong reason," Butt said. "We have negotiated in good faith and we believe that disagreements are best handled amongst individuals."

In the memo to employees, Butt said the boycott and picketing by union workers won't cause Benchmark to accept a two-year contract with hotel workers union Local 5.

"We feel it is very important that you realize that there will be less opportunity for you to earn an income because of your union's constant harassment of your guests," Butt said in the memo. "We would rather close the resort than allow you and your families to be used as hostages."

Drusila Caracol, a waitress who has worked at Turtle Bay for the past 28 years, said about 10 employees of the Palm Terrace restaurant have lost significant work hours since the hotel's operational changes took effect. The resort restaurant will now be closed Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights and Sunday afternoon, she said.

"They say we're slow but we aren't," Caracol said. "We're now operating with a skeleton crew and employees are worried about their jobs."

Butt said the company is saddened by the need to make cutbacks so near the holidays and hopes resolution can soon be reached.

"My hope is that these operational adjustments will be over tomorrow, but we'll have to take a look at it from week by week," Butt said.

Turtle Bay Resort
www.turtlebayresort.com/ H.E.R.E. Local 5


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