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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, September 6, 2002

Official says hotel wages still issue

 •  Dockworkers agree on benefits
 •  Graphic: How Hawai'i hotels are faring

By Kelly Yamanouchi
Advertiser Staff Writer

The union representing 4,000 hotel workers continued talks yesterday with management of Sheraton hotels as representatives for both sides continued marathon efforts to avert a possible strike.

Yesterday was the third day of talks between Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 5 and Sheraton parent Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., which have gone some days into the early morning hours.

Negotiators have been meeting in full committees, and often breaking up into smaller groups to work out details of the contract.

"The talks are still progressing," said Keith Vieira, Starwood's senior vice president and director of operations for Hawai'i and French Polynesia. "We're hopeful we'll reach a settlement. We'll just stay at it and hopefully we'll get there."

Talks with Hilton management that had been scheduled for Wednesday have been postponed to allow talks with Starwood to continue.

"We're going to continue to negotiate until there's no more progress being made," said Local 5 spokesman Jason Ward. He also said the union was trying to reschedule talks with Hilton for as early as today.

Hotel officials did not characterize the tone of the talks or what the remaining sticking points might be. Ward said the key issues to be ironed out are subcontracting terms, medical coverage and wages.

"We're very far apart on wages," Ward said yesterday. He said that at some points negotiations have been tense, and that on Wednesday night, "we were almost out the door there, but cooler heads prevailed."

Gov. Ben Cayetano has been monitoring the situation.

"I've had closed discussions with members of the hotel group. I have not had the opportunity to speak with the union heads but they know I am available to help, if needed," Cayetano said through a spokesman.

In Chicago, Illinois Gov. George Ryan intervened in talks between hotel management and workers and the two sides avoided a strike with a tentative agreement Tuesday.

The Local 5 talks continued as union officials said this week that a strike may be imminent at the five Waikiki hotels represented by Starwood and Hilton, as union leaders have grown increasingly pessimistic about contract negotiations that started in March.

Any job action could affect the Hilton Hawaiian Village, the Sheraton Waikiki, Princess Ka'iulani, Sheraton Moana Surfrider and Royal Hawaiian hotels.

"Given our extremely fragile state following the events of 9/11," said Misty Johanson, University of Hawai'i associate professor of hospitality management, "hotel companies will get hurt financially, and in the public domain."

Johanson said workers and tourists would also be hurt by a strike.

Both sides have been preparing for a possible strike. On Monday, the union opened a strike headquarters; yesterday, Starwood established a communications center to use in a strike. Union members have been signing up for picket duty and making signs, Ward said.

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