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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 4, 2001

Hotels make strike plans

 •  Highlights of hotel workers contract situation

By Frank Cho
Advertiser Staff Writer

With the possibility of a strike at six major Waikiki hotels looming early next week, hoteliers said yesterday they are preparing contingency plans as they continue to hope that a settlement can be reached.

Hawai'i's biggest hotel workers' union, the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 5 AFL-CIO, said yesterday it is prepared to strike as soon as Tuesday if it cannot reach a contract agreement with hotel management by Monday.

The union, whose members have been working under a contract extension since March 2000, is asking about 5,000 members at the six hotels not to report to work Monday.

Union leaders said they want the union members to meet instead at 10 a.m. to ratify a new contract, if one is reached over the weekend, or possibly authorize a strike.

The threat of a strike comes a week after the state's teachers and professors ended their own strikes, and coincides with the start of the Asian Development Bank conference, a major international meeting scheduled to bring thousands of executives and finance ministers from around the world.

"There will be a cutback in services to a degree," said David Uchiyama, a spokesman for Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, which operates four Sheraton hotels that would be affected by the work stoppage. Uchiyama said about 75 percent of the hotels' more than 2,500-member staff are Local 5 members.

Plans call for the hotels' managers and other nonunion staff to pick up the work of union members who participate in the work stoppage, and to temporarily close a number of hotel retail outlets and restaurants.

"This is a busy time for us so it is going to be difficult," said Scott Kawakami, a spokesman for the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Resort & Spa, another hotel that would be affected.

No plans to move delegates

Many of the officials with the Asian Development Bank meeting are staying at hotels that would be affected.

Zenaida McLin, convention services director for the Hawai'i Visitors and Convention Bureau, said there are no plans to move delegates from any of the affected hotels. But, she said, they may be moved if there is a strike and the delegates request to be moved.

"It is my hope that the parties working towards a contract settlement can resolve their differences before the meeting begins on Monday," Gov. Ben Cayetano said yesterday in a statement.

Local 5 has been negotiating a new contract for more than a year with the hotels, and union officials said the timing of the work stoppage with the start of the bank meeting is coincidental.

"Some have accused us of timing this for that," said Sherri Chiesa, the union's Western Regional director and trustee for Local 5. "But we are concerned also that our issues are going to get lost in all the coverage surrounding the meeting. We have just come to the end of our rope."

Under orders from the union's international governing body, Chiesa took control of the union Feb. 26 after months of infighting among local leadership. She has made settling the contract negotiations her priority.

Deadlines loom

Chiesa is also facing her own deadline to settle. She was scheduled to return to the Mainland today for executive board meetings, but has postponed those plans. She is also running for the international union's post of financial secretary at its convention in July.

Chiesa also has been tasked with holding local elections to name a new financial secretary-treasurer to replace Eric Gill, who was ousted by the international union's president in February so Local 5 can choose a new delegation to send to the July convention.

Chiesa said she is optimistic a deal can be struck with the the hotels by Monday.

"We are committed to meet around the clock if we have to," Chiesa said.

The hotels have declined to comment on whether union members who miss work Monday would be paid, but some workers said yesterday they are tired of the lengthy contract negotiations and said they will strike if necessary to get a fair contract.

"None of the people would like to see this happen, but there is no job security right now. That is what all the fear is all about," said Leroy Paredes, 62, a doorman at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Paredes, who has been with the hotel for seven years, said he was a cashier for the hotel until a few years ago when he was moved to doorman.

Job security an issue

Some like Paredes said they object to their jobs being offered to lower-paid, nonunion subcontractors. Chiesa said she estimates nonunion subcontractors are being used in several hundred jobs at Hilton.

Work subcontracted to nonunion members remains the biggest sticking point in negotiations, Chiesa said.

"This is not a hugely complex negotiation with a ton of issues. It's about job security and wage increases," she said.

Local 5 is asking for a 5 percent wage increase across the board over each year of the contract. They are negotiating a three-year agreement that would be retroactive to March 2000.

For a housekeeper who earns an average of $11.82 an hour, the salary would rise to $13.68 by the end of the agreement, or a 15.8 percent increase. A top-paid maintenance worker who earns $20.35 an hour would see his salary jump to $23.56 a hour.

Proposal rejected

Union officials say a record number of visitors gave hotels a profitable year in 2000. But hotel owners have said a projected slowdown in the state's economy and stagnant visitor arrivals mean they likely cannot afford to pay what the unions are demanding.

The union that represents about 11,000 hotel employees statewide already has rejected at least one contract proposed by management since discussion started last year.

Dozens of other hotel labor agreements at other properties around the state also have expired or about to, but talks mostly have been on hold. Many see the hotel master agreement as a bellwether indicating what other properties will pay their union employees.

The Hawaii Hotel Council, which met yesterday afternoon to discuss the negotiations, did not return repeated phone calls for comment. The council is scheduled to meet with Local 5 today at 2 p.m., but no talks have been scheduled during the weekend.

The last time the union went on strike was in March 1990 for 22 days. Local 5 officials emphasized yesterday that the union is not going on strike Monday. Chiesa said the union will hold a stop-work meeting "so that our members can review and evaluate the position of the employers at that time."

"We anticipate either holding a ratification vote in the event the negotiating committee is in a position to recommend acceptance of an offer from the council, or in the alternative, deciding on what other economic actions are required to ensure a fair contract settlement," Chiesa said.

She said she has asked a federal mediator to assist in the negotiations.

• • •

Highlights of hotel workers contract situation

Union: Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union Local 5, AFL-CIO. One of Hawai'i's largest unions with 11,000 members, it was placed under the trusteeship of Sherri Chiesa, the international's western regional director, earlier this year.

Action: Work stoppage scheduled for Monday.

Affects: 5,000 workers at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, Hyatt Regency Waikiki, Sheraton-Waikiki, Sheraton Princess Ka'iulani, the Royal Hawaiian and the Sheraton Moana Surfrider hotels.

The issue: Workers covered by the Master Hotel Agreement, the biggest single hotel labor contract, have been working without a contract since March 2000 as negotiations continue. The union says subcontracting and wage and benefits issues remain.

What's next: Union and hotel officials meet this afternoon for more talks. No talks are scheduled for the weekend, but the union said it is prepared to talk through the weekend.

Next week: If a contract deal is reached by Monday, union officials said the work stoppage will be used to let workers vote on whether to approve the contract.

If there is no deal, union officials said a strike-authorization vote may be taken.

Workers could strike as early as Tuesday.

Correction: Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide operates four Sheraton hotels in Waikiki. A previous version of this story had incorrect information.