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The Honolulu Advertiser
Updated at 9:29 a.m., Wednesday, September 4, 2002

Strike looms for hotels

 •  Hawai'i importers making plans for dockworkers strike

By Kelly Yamanouchi
Advertiser Staff Writer

A strike by 4,000 workers could come as early as today at five Waikiki hotels as union leaders grew increasingly pessimistic yesterday about contract negotiations between representatives for hotel workers and management of Hilton and Sheraton hotels.

Union officials said negotiations, which began in March, continued yesterday with Sheraton parent Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., and will be held today with Hilton management.

If talks do not go well, the union could strike after the negotiations today, said Jason Ward, a spokesman for the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 5. Ward said key sticking points remaining in the negotiations are wage increases, workloads, subcontracting terms and medical coverage.

“Unfortunately I think it’s a very serious possibility,” Ward said. “At this point we’re ready to go on strike, and we’re not optimistic that we’ll be able to avoid it.”

A Hilton official declined to comment on the talks, and an attorney representing the company could not be reached yesterday. A Starwood official declined to comment on the negotiations and said it is premature to talk about the possibility of strike.

The spectre of a strike comes at a crucial time for Hawai‘i’s fragile tourism industry. Hotels have slowly been able to improve occupancy rates but often at the expense of cutting daily room rates and offering deep discounts. Any job action could affect the Hilton Hawaiian Village, Sheraton Waikiki, Princess Ka‘iulani, the Sheraton Moana Surfrider and the Royal Hawaiian hotels.

“Any type of effect is not going to be good for the state,” said Daisy Aio, director of tourism consulting for hospitality consulting firm PKF Hawaii LLP. “If it just lasts a couple of weeks, I think more of the impact will be just the negative appearance it’ll give to visitors here.”

Both sides in recent days have begun increasing preparations in the event of a strike. The union on Monday opened a strike headquarters, and yesterday Starwood established a communications center to use in the event of a strike.

“We have contingency plans for all types of emergencies,” said Starwood spokesman David Uchiyama. “Any talk of strikes at this point is very premature … We have not activated the strike contingency plan yet.”

Uchiyama declined to talk about details of the plan, but said initial phases could be activated within hours.
The last major hotel workers strike in Hawai‘i was in 1990 and lasted 22 days, according to Local 5 officials. The union also came close to a strike last year.

Hotel officials declined to comment on specifics of the current contract talks. Union officials said yesterday that the union is asking for wage increases of 40 cents an hour for both tipped and non-tipped workers this year. For tipped and non-tipped workers, the union is asking for another 45 cents and 15 cents, respectively, in March 2003; 50 cents and 15 cents in March 2004; and 65 cents and 15 cents in 2005.

The union has said that the hotels’ proposals for raises were closer to 15 cents and 5 cents for the first year, 25 cents and 5 cents for 2003, 30 cents and 10 cents in 2004, and 35 cents and 10 cents in 2005, for non-tipped and tipped workers, respectively.

The union said the hotel owners have proposed a more modest 9.2 percent average increase in wages and benefits over four years.

According to the union, housekeepers have a standard wage of $12.77 an hour, and the hotels are proposing a 20 cent increase for them and other non-tipped workers in 2003. Bell clerks have a standard wage of $6.20 to $6.50, and the union said the hotels have proposed a 5-cent increase for them and other tipped workers in 2003.

Subcontracted workers are not covered by the union contract, but Local 5 is asking for hotels to stop subcontracting hotel jobs to lower-wage workers. It is asking for subcontracted workers, including Team Clean workers, to receive pay comparable to those of regular employees.

According to Local 5, hotel workers are paid about $12 to $14 an hour, while subcontracted workers are paid closer to $7 an hour for similar work.

“There’s been a long trend for the last decade of fewer people doing more work,” Ward said. “Sept. 11 came along and that trend was dramatically accelerated.” The union is also proposing language that would limit workloads.

Union members currently receive fully-paid health coverage, and Local 5 said the hotels are proposing a two-tiered health coverage structure in which workers would pay 20 percent for their first five years and 10 percent for the next five years.

Ward said the union wants to keep the current system of fully-paid health coverage and is also asking for increases in healthcare contributions.

Reach Kelly Yamanouchi at 535-2470 or at kyamanouchi@honoluluadvertiser.com.