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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Hilton, Local 5 reach tentative agreement

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hilton Hawaiian Village housekeeper Dolores Reyes, who was also part of the negotiating team, gets a hug from a co-worker after their Local 5 union reached a tentative agreement with the hotel.

GREGORY YAMAMOTO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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On stage from left, Eric Gill, Gary Seibert and Dolores Reyes applaud the deal reached between the union and Hilton Hawaiian Village.

GREGORY YAMAMOTO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa and the union that represents more than 1,500 employees yesterday announced a tentative contract agreement that addresses longstanding issues of pension, workload, wages and subcontracting.

The agreement was reached Saturday and is subject to a union ratification vote, which is expected this week. The settlement covers Hilton's 1,554 unionized members of UNITE HERE Local 5 who have been without a contract since June 30.

Terms of the tentative agreement were not released, but representatives from management and the union characterized the deal as fair.

"This constitutes and sets a pattern for hotel workers throughout Waikiki and ultimately throughout Hawai'i," said Eric Gill, secretary-treasurer of UNITE HERE Local 5. "The excellent terms of this deal ensure that workers in the hotel industry in Hawai'i will continue to advance and will continue to build good, middle-class jobs for our workers."

Gill said issues, such as subcontracting, pension, healthcare and wages that have plagued contract talks in the past, were resolved.

"It was a well-argued and hard-fought negotiation campaign, but it was played fair on both sides, and I'm happy to have peace," Gill said.

Gary Seibert, area vice president and managing director for Hilton Hawai'i, said the agreement will benefit the hotel, its employees, visitors as well as the state.

"It's extremely important that we came to an amicable and good settlement so as not to interrupt the service aspects and the expectations of our customers," Seibert said.

Seibert said he was relieved that the settlement, if ratified, would avert a possible strike. The Hilton employees, as well as unionized workers at four Sheraton hotels in Waikiki, voted on Aug. 23 to authorize the union to strike should talks break down.

Contract talks between Local 5 and Sheraton resume today. The union represents nearly 2,500 workers at the Sheraton Waikiki, Sheraton Princess Kaiulani, Sheraton Moana Surfrider and The Royal Hawaiian.

UNITE HERE was created by the merger of two unions, the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees.

Gill said he will be taking the same agreement that was reached with Hilton to the Sheraton talks today and will settle for nothing less.

"We're confident that the other hotels will agree to these terms," Gill said. "They have a hard choice to make. Hilton has agreed to some very good terms and good improvements for the workers and the other hotels will just have to step up to the plate and make that same decision."

Sheraton spokesman David Uchiyama said he was "very happy" that Hilton and the union reached an agreement. He said Sheraton and Local 5 have reached settlements on "a majority of the issues," but must still come to an agreement on an economic package.

"I think we're headed in the right direction," Uchiyama said. "The dialogue that's gone between both negotiating teams has been very focused on achieving what's right for our associates and their members."

Rod Kane, a cook at the Princess Kaiulani, was a little encouraged. Kane has been with Sheraton for 12 years.

"It's going slowly," he said of the contract talks. "But with the Hilton settlement, it gives us a big advantage going into negotiations."

He said the big sticking point continues to be the subcontracting of food and beverage operations at the hotels.

"They basically want to take my job away and rent it out to a celebrity chef," Kane said.

He said Sheraton workers want the same "sweet deal" that his counterparts at the Hilton got.

Longtime Hilton employees yesterday praised the union and management for reaching the tentative agreement.

Debbie Tabar, a finance clerk who has been with Hilton for 32 years, said she was "ecstatic" about the news. Tabar, who took part in the statewide hotel workers strike in 1990, said she was prepared to walk off her job.

"It dragged on longer than I wanted it to," Tabar said of the talks. "But it is good for both sides. We were given a generous, but fair, contract."

Barbara Palencia, an 11-year Hilton employee, said the new contract will elevate her job status from a bell clerk to front-server clerk. The difference, she said, means about a 50 percent pay raise.

"They've been talking about this for many years and nothing was done," Palencia said. "The new contract will protect us. No subcontracting, reduced workload, and they won't touch our pension."

The agreement came as welcome news to the governor's tourism liaison. Marsha Weinert said she hopes this will lead to a quick resolution between the union and Sheraton.

"Hopefully what has been able to be accomplished with Hilton will be accomplished with the other properties," Weinert said. "Every property has different concerns and different issues and different abilities, so I'm sure that the negotiations at the other properties on both parts will be as honest and open as they can be."

The settlement and contract talks come during a strong and steady period for the hotel industry. Average hotel room rates reached an all-time high in August despite a drop in occupancy.

Reach Curtis Lum at culum@honoluluadvertiser.com.