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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, July 21, 2006

Turtle Bay labor battle may be over

By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Staff Writer

The long, bitter labor dispute between Turtle Bay Resort management and the union representing its employees appears to be over, with both sides announcing a tentative agreement yesterday.

If UNITE HERE Local 5's nearly 400 union employees ratify the new contract in a vote tomorrow it will bring to a close one of the state's most protracted labor-management battles.

Turtle Bay workers' contract expired in 1999. It was extended repeatedly until November 2003 when union members began working without a contract.

"It's about time," said Brenda Orr, clerk at the resort's Sand Bar for 19 years. "I'm sure everyone's happy that this is finally over. ... It's been stressful."

The main barrier to an agreement, according to the union, was management's efforts to hire non-union workers. The two sides declined to release details of the new agreement until after ratification.

The dispute turned ugly in recent years with each side taking actions that angered the other.

Local 5 launched a consumer boycott of Turtle Bay in November 2003 and set up a Web site urging visitors to stay away from the resort. Yesterday, Local 5's Web site proclaimed the boycott is over.

Workers had picketed resort grounds and held rallies to draw attention to their situation. Management temporarily removed workers who participated in a one-day walkout.

The union last year charged that management suspended and terminated employees for union activity. Turtle Bay also made an unsuccessful bid for a temporary restraining order against the union.

"It has taken months of listening, discussion, and collaboration to make this a win-win for both the employees and the hotel," Local 5 and hotel manager Benchmark Hospitality said in a joint statement. "Both parties have negotiated in good faith and the process reinforced the value of mutual respect. We believe we are now in a much better place than ever before."

"I'm sure our employees are equally as happy about reaching this important milestone so we can continue to focus all our attention back to meeting the needs of our guests at the Turtle Bay Resort," managing director Bob Boyle said in the statement.

"Our members are happy with the settlement, and we are pleased to welcome all our valued guests back to the resort," said Eric Gill, Local 5's secretary/treasurer.

Lawrence Boyd, a labor economist at the University of Hawai'i-West O'ahu, said he can't recall any other instance where unionized workers have gone so long without a contract in Hawai'i.

The labor agreement also will free resort owner Oaktree Capital Management LLC of Los Angeles and developer Kuilima Resort Co. to concentrate on plans to expand the North Shore resort. The proposed resort expansion includes five new hotels with 3,500 rooms and condominium units, as well as four public parks.

Turtle Bay was formerly managed by Hilton.

Reach Lynda Arakawa at larakawa@honoluluadvertiser.com.