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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 8, 2001

Hotels avert worker strike as ADB events begin

By Frank Cho
Advertiser Staff Writer

Representatives of 5,000 Waikiki hotel workers reached a tentative two-year contract agreement early yesterday morning after nearly 14 consecutive hours at the bargaining table.

The settlement, which came just hours after workers had started to walk off the job at six major hotels, narrowly averted the possibility of a strike vote yesterday.

In the first year of the deal, the settlement calls for workers to receive a 3 percent pay raise, or 40 cents an hour, whichever is greater; the second year calls for workers to receive a 45-cent-an-hour across-the-board increase.

On what negotiators had said was a key sticking point — subcontracting — the union said the deal calls for a moratorium on hotel hirings of nonunion workers for some jobs through the life of the contract.

The agreement covers 5,000 workers at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Sheraton Waikiki, Sheraton Moana Surfrider, Sheraton Princess Ka'iulani, Hyatt Regency and Hilton Hawaiian Village.

Union leaders are to meet today to map out a plan for ratifying the contract, union officials said.

Details of the settlement were presented to several hundred members of Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 5, AFL-CIO, at a meeting at Blaisdell Exhibition Hall yesterday morning.

Some union members said the contract leaves issues unresolved and that they are still worried about their jobs.

"I am very happy we avoided a strike," said Donna Nakayama, a hostess at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Resort and Spa. "But we weren't really interested in a raise. This was more about job security."

Steven Picanso, who works in the food-preparation department at the Hyatt Regency, said he was frustrated by a lack of details.

"They basically told us there would be no subcontracting until 2002 and not much else," he said.

The union had called for a work stoppage yesterday if a contract deal had not been reached, but most employees reported for work after the agreement was announced in the early morning hours.

"In most cases almost everyone showed up," said Keith Vieira, senior vice president of Starwood Hotels & Resorts.

Paul Tang, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Waikiki, said most of his 700 affected employees reported to work.

Union officials said management agreed to not discipline workers who did not report for work yesterday morning, but expected the afternoon shifts to report as usual.

Other terms of the deal include an agreement by the hotels to freeze any new leasing of food and beverage services until Feb. 28, 2002. In return, the union settled for a shorter contract period, smaller raises and lowered contribution levels by the hotels back to its health and welfare fund worth about $2 million. It will also take two and a half years for newly hired workers to reach full wages, instead of six months under the old agreement.

Local 5 had gone into the contract talks asking for a three-year deal with 5 percent raises across the board and the elimination of any subcontracting.

Yesterday's deal was reached despite difficulties on both sides of the negotiating table, negotiators said.

Eric Gill had been the top elected official at Local 5 until February when he was removed, along with Local 5's executive board, by the union's Washington D.C.-based headquarters because in-fighting had left many of Local 5's 10,000 members without contracts.

Sherri Chiesa, the Western regional director for the international, was appointed trustee of Local 5 and headed the negotiating team that included Gill and long-time rival Tony Rutledge, whom Gill defeated in a union election last year.

Union officials said Sheraton negotiators, which represented four of the six properties in the talks, wanted a quick settlement and blamed the leaders of Hilton in particular for the bargaining troubles.

"We were very concerned over our associate's position and how any kind of settlement would affect our employees," said David Uchiyama, a spokesman for Sheraton.

Some said Sheraton might seek to leave the Hawai'i Council of Hotels, which negotiates collectively for the hotels, but Uchiyama said he did not know of any such plans.

"The negotiations in general created a lot of uncertainty, but I did not see anything that would indicate that Sheraton wanted to leave the council," said Richard Rand, a spokesman for the council.

Because the two-year agreement will be retroactive to March 1, 2000, only 10 months will be left before the new contract expires. Union officials said they will ask that negotiations begin as early as September for the next contract.

"We want to ensure that we have an agreement before this one expires," said Kauai Akana, a Local 5 business representative who helped negotiate the current deal.

But the union would need approval from the hotels to open contract talks earlier than the 90 days allowed for in the new agreement.

Akana told union members that they have a plan for early talks, but much of that hinges on union elections in the new few months.

Since being put into trusteeship, the union has operated without elected officials.

Frank Cho can be reached by phone at 525-8088, or by e-mail at fcho@honoluluadvertiser.com.