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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, September 9, 2002

Hilton, union reach deal

By Karen Blakeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

The Local 5 Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union strike headquarters on Kapi'olani Boulevard — opened last week as negotiations with Waikiki hotel managers reached critical stages — was empty last night after a second major Waikiki hotel company signed off on a four-year contract.

"Know anybody who wants to rent a strike headquarters?" Local 5 head Eric Gill asked yesterday after the second agreement was reached with Hilton Hawaiian Village managers.

Hilton and Local 5 reached agreement before 4 p.m. yesterday, said Karen Winpenny, a Hilton spokeswoman. Negotiations between Hilton and the union had resumed at the Hawaiian Village's Alii Tower less than an hour and a half earlier.

The Hilton agreement came after a weekend of intense negotiations, and less than 24 hours after a virtually identical agreement had been reached with Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, which manages Sheraton's four Waikiki properties: the Sheraton Waikiki, Princess Ka'iulani, Sheraton Moana Surfrider and The Royal Hawaiian.

About 4,000 union employees will be affected by the agreements with Sheraton and Hilton.

The agreements are for a four-year contract, back-dated to June 1, with pay and pension increases, job security clauses and a five-year plan for bringing subcontractor pay up to the same level as other hotel employee salaries.

Both contracts are contingent upon a ratification vote, but union leaders said they thought the terms were so favorable to employees that ratification would not be a problem. The ratification meeting date has not been set.

Union members who had waited for word yesterday at the Local 5 business offices in Waikiki said they were very pleased.

"I am so happy I can't find the words to tell you how happy I am," said Florencia Ellorin, a housekeeper at the Hilton Hawaiian Village for the past 20 years. "This is the best contract we've had the entire time I've worked at the Hilton."

Ellorin said she had been committed to manning a picket line if negotiations had broken down, but was glad a strike had been averted. She said she had raised her son alone on her Hilton wages, and the two of them had worried about how to pay the bills on his salary from an island retail store.

"He said, 'Mom, how will we make the house payment?' " she said. She said she told her son they would find a way to survive.

The average wage for housekeepers and other union hotel workers who do not receive tips is $15 per hour. The new contract will increase their pay by a total of $1.60 an hour over the next four years, and company pension contributions for each employee will increase from 65 cents per hour to $1 per hour.

Hotel workers who receive tips will get a raise that totals 45 cents per hour over the term of the four-year contract.

The agreement also gave workers more job security. Contract employees, who have been used increasingly over the years by the hotels, will get pay raises over the next five years that will make their salary and benefit packages equivalent to those of workers on the hotel payroll, union officials said.

Another clause protects union jobs when one management company sells a hotel to another company.

Gill said the clause protecting union jobs was drafted through lessons learned the hard way: a number of union jobs were lost last year when the Waikiki Beach Hotel was purchased by Aston and the new managers hired nonunion staff.

Negotiations with Hilton broke down shortly after midnight Saturday, halfway through an all-night session, Gill said. Strike captains were dispatched to set up picket lines, but Hilton returned to the table before the strike could materialize.

Gill said he plans to use the agreement reached with Hilton and Sheraton as a standard for all Waikiki negotiations, and planned to present it to Hyatt and Ilikai managers.

"Wait," Gill joked, "maybe we should hold on to the strike headquarters and picket signs until we get their responses."

Frank Lavey, general manager of the Hyatt, left the Local 5 headquarters in Waikiki with his copy of the Hilton/Sheraton agreement in hand a few hours after the Hilton negotiations concluded.

He refused to comment on the union's proposal, but said negotiations would take place within the next few days and that he hoped an agreement would be reached soon.

Local 5 is also working toward a new contract with the Ala Moana and at least two Neighbor Island hotels.

Murray Towill, president of the Hawaii Hotel Association, which represents 180 hotels and associated businesses across the state, said last night he was pleased agreements had been reached.

"A strike would have been hard on both the employees and the companies," he said.

Towill said he wasn't sure a standard contract package would work for all Waikiki hotels. Few of them, he said, have pockets as deep as Hilton or Sheraton.