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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 10:03 p.m., Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Hotel union members authorize strike

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Unionized workers from the Hilton Hawaiian Village and the four Sheraton Waikiki hotels voted today to authorize a strike in a move that gives union negotiators extra leverage in contract talks that have been under way since April.

Eighty percent of the 2,546 union members voted to authorize a strike.

About 67 percent of the roughly 4,000 members of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 5 cast ballots today.

Hundreds of members of Local 5 from the Hyatt Regency, the Renaissance Ilikai and Ala Moana hotels pledged to donate $5 a week to the union's strike/hardship fund and to picket for five hours per week if a strike should occur.

Today's vote does not mean there will be a strike, but authorizes union officials to call for one if contract talks break down.

The move is a significant step in the hotel contract talks. Analysts have said that a strike would be particularly harmful to tourism, Hawai'i's No. 1 industry, during the traditionally slow fall season. Troubles in the stock market and the anniversary of Sept. 11 also could slow down the industry, analysts say.

Several hotel workers said today they went to the Hawai'i Convention Center to authorize a strike because they are concerned about job security and equal benefits for new employees, rather than increased wages.

They said they were particularly upset that talks have bogged down over strengthening contract language that would assure them jobs if their hotels were to be sold.

"We're not trying to nickel and dime the company," said Ilia Patlidzanou, a 32-year-old waiter at the Sheraton Princess Ka'iulani. "And we don't care if they sell the hotel to someone else. We just want to make sure that we have a job five years, 10 years down the line."

Pauline Chang, who has been with the Hilton Hawaiian Village for 17 years and is in the landscaping department, is like many Local 5 members who oppose a requiring new employees to pay a portion of their health care benefits for their first 10 years of employment.

"We're working for the future of Hawai'i," said Chang, 53. "It's terrible what they want to do to the new, younger employees."

Local 5 officials have pledged to pay striking workers $150 per week for the first two weeks of a strike and $200 from then on.