Companies prepare for strike
By David Butts and John Duchemin
Advertiser Staff Writers
In anticipation of a teachers strike, the Sheraton Waikiki tomorrow will convert a second-floor function room into a child care center with a capacity of up to 200 children. The Queen's Medical Center and Hawaiian Airlines have told managers to be flexible with employees who need to change schedules to accommodate their children.
Businesses throughout Hawai'i are bracing for the strike. Employers are taking steps to make sure a walkout, which could begin tomorrow, will not affect service or their bottom line.
"It is one big mess," said Sam Shenkus, spokeswoman for Roberts Hawaii, a tour operator. "A major issue is productivity. What are you going to do with the kids?"
Many businesses said yesterday that they are prepared for the strike. Their employees have arranged for their children to stay with family members or friends. If that is not possible, the employees are changing their schedules to accommodate a strike.
The Sheraton Waikiki said not many of its 1,700 employees have signed up for the special on-site child care.
That was echoed by Ann Nishida, a spokeswoman at the telephone company Verizon Hawai'i, who said few of the company's 2,600 employees have said they need help with child care. The company sent a memo to its staff with a list of emergency strike care facilities.
Tesoro Hawaii is offering flexible scheduling for many of its 700 employees. Parents working at the fuel company's gas stations have the option of switching shifts so that they can watch their kids during the day, company spokesman Nathan Hokama said.
The Queen's Medical Center sent its 3,000 employees a memo last week encouraging them to arrange for schedule changes or look for alternative child care.
"The bottom line is, we need to have everybody here," said Richard Lau, vice president for human resources.
Many employers are relying on outside care services to take the burden off parents. Officials at Straub Clinic & Hospital Inc., for example, have told their 2,000 employees to rely on care provider Kamaaina Kids or others, company spokeswoman Claire Tong said.
Kamaaina Kids, which usually runs after-school and summer programs, has set up 20 temporary locations at churches, state parks, military bases, the Bishop Museum and Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park to handle an expected 2,000 children during school hours.
"We support the teachers and don't want to cross the picket line," said Ray Sanborn, president of Kamaaina Kids. "But we have our customers, and they need care."
Sanborn said he was contacted by several businesses including Kaiser Permanente, Kapiolani Medical Center, Outrigger Hotels and Sheraton about providing care for employees' children.
The Sheraton's child care center, which will be staffed by Kamaaina Kids, will be open to anyone willing to pay Kamaaina's $20 per day fee.
"We want to give employees an alternative," said B.J. Whitman, director of public relations for the Sheraton Waikiki. "We want them to know their children will be safe, and they can continue working."
One source of potential child care givers during the strike is University of Hawai'i students, who may be idle if their professors go on strike at the same time as the public school teachers.
Kamaaina Kids' Sanborn said many of his employees are university students who, under normal circumstances, would not be able to work a morning shift, but may have more free time in the event of a strike at UH.