Monday, November 30, 2015         

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Lingle, Gill at odds over strike

Local 5 disputes the governor's vow that there will be no disruptions during a convention group's visit

By Dave Segal


Union workers at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa picketed for a second day of a planned five-day strike yesterday, and a mainland group that threatened to cancel its convention due to labor unrest got an assurance from the governor there would be no strikes during its visit.

Brookfield, Wis.-based International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans had said it may cancel its Hawaii convention next month and pull back more than 10,000 scheduled visitors who had booked about 5,700 hotel rooms. The group is pro-union and did not want to risk having to cross a picket line.

Gov. Linda Lingle faxed a letter yesterday to top officials at the International Foundation in which she said that Eric Gill, financial secretary-treasurer of Unite Here Local 5, had given his "commitment and assurance" of no strikes, pickets or boycotts during the group's Nov. 14-17 event.

"I am confident that you will have a productive and uninterrupted educational meeting at the Hawai'i Convention Center next month," Lingle wrote.

Late last night, Gill said striking at the Hilton during the conference was still an option, but the union would not strike any other hotel at that time. He said the letter misrepresented the union's stance.

"I have not made assurances to the governor or the foundation that we would stand down at the Hilton," he said.

Gill said he hopes the convention would use other hotels because of the ongoing dispute at the Hilton. He believes there are sufficient rooms available at other hotels to accommodate guests from the foundation.

Local 5 spokesman Cade Watanabe said, "Obviously, we have a stake in making sure that the conference stays in Hawaii."

Jerry Gibson, area vice president for Hilton Hawaii, said he spoke with International Foundation CEO Michael Wilson yesterday and was told that the group would make a decision Monday regarding the Hilton. Gibson said Thursday that the group had booked 9,230 hotel room nights (number of rooms times the number of nights) at the Hilton.

Meanwhile the biggest complaints that Hilton guests had since the strike began at 4 a.m. Thursday was the noise from the strikers, Gibson said.

"They start the chants and the noise early in the morning using bullhorns, sirens, noisemakers and singing," Gibson said. "So guests are getting an early wake-up call. We're trying to do the best we can and are very proud of the team we have working to make the guests have a good experience."

The hotel trained people over the last month and a half due to the threat of a strike and has brought in nearly 300 replacement workers to assist the managers who have been pressed into other duties, Gibson said. He said there was no bump in cancellations since the strike began.

All the rooms eventually were cleaned and serviced during the first day of the strike even though the hotel initially instructed guests in a handout where they could find fresh linen and towels, Gibson said.

Despite the hotel's efforts, guests still were inconvenienced.

Jared MacInnis, of Edmonton, Alberta, who was on his honeymoon, said service was "great" when he and his wife checked in before the strike.

"Then essential services dwindled," he said. "In our tower (Alii Tower), the front desk closed, room service is gone and the two restaurants in our tower were closed. They've been somewhat accommodating trying to get us what we're entitled to as paying guests. I just hope it gets resolved. I know the guests are the ones who take the hit, but you've got to support the workers, too. I don't really understand the whole scope and picture of the conflict, but it's hard to blame them. I don't know who's right and who's wrong."

A couple from Seattle, who declined to give their names, said they had been looking forward to eating at Tropics, which was closed, and were unable to use their $50 vouchers at Hilton-owned restaurants. They also said they are staying on the street side of the Kalia Tower and that the chanting has been waking them up in the morning. In addition, they said, they hadn't received housecleaning in two days.

"We did see them in the evening but we were in our room," the Seattle man said. "It was like 10 at night. Given the rates at this place, we were hoping they would give us a discount because we're not getting housekeeping and the restaurant we wanted to go to is closed."

Gibson, however, said the Hilton had about 20 restaurants and lounges open, rooms are being cleaned and there would be no discounts.

Unite Here Local 5 represents about 1,500 Hilton workers. The union contract expired in June. The union has been asking for more job security to counter the threat of outsourcing and subcontracting work. Hilton has offered pay increases and to continue to cover 100 percent of employee health insurance. Hilton has said other union demands are unrealistic.

Union negotiations are continuing at the Hilton, Sheraton and Hyatt hotels.

David Lewin, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort & Spa, held his second straight day of negotiations yesterday with Local 5, but blasted the union beforehand.

"Local 5 believes the best use of everyone's time is to stand on the street and make noise," he said. "It's sad and pathetic. The people who suffer are the tourists who pay the bills and the employees who need to pay the bills."

Separately, police arrested a 64-year-old Madison, Ala., man yesterday who allegedly struck a striking worker with his vehicle as he was leaving the Hilton premises at about 8:55 a.m. The suspect is believed to be a guest of the hotel. Witnesses said prior to the incident, the victim and other pickets told the suspect to stop, a police spokeswoman said.

The victim, 30, had no visible injuries.

Watanabe said the incident happened at the Kahanamoku entrance to the resort between the Ilikai and Hilton properties.

"We're grateful to the police who are out there ensuring we are able to have safe picket lines," Watanabe said.

Star-Advertiser reporter Gordon Pang contributed to this story.

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