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Hilton workers take a stand

Local 5 members rally over contract talks and briefly overtake the resort's hotel lobby

By Allison Schaefers

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 02:44 a.m. HST, Nov 17, 2010


Hundreds of Hilton Hawaiian Village union workers briefly took over the resort's lobby yesterday during a two-hour rally to demonstrate their unhappiness with the progress of labor talks.

Those rallying stretched from the corner of Ala Moana Boulevard to the Hale Koa hotel, drawing attention from passing motorists, vacationers and shoppers in a highly trafficked portion of Waikiki. They shouted and rang bells and pounded drums as they walked down the resort's main road to the lobby.

Although Hilton, police and union head counts ranged from 400 to nearly 2,000 participants, it was standing room only in the hotel lobby as workers were joined by hundreds of pro-union International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans conference attendees in Honolulu. Workers and supporters chanted, "No Contract, No Peace," "No Justice, No Peace," and "Union Power" and then began singing "Solidarity forever, the union makes us strong." After about 10 minutes of loud chanting and music, the protesters retreated to the beach in front of the resort.

"We are taking our campaign to the streets of Hawaii until Hilton and the other hotels are ready to make progress," said Eric Gill, financial secretary and treasurer of Local 5. "Starwood's and Hyatt's proposals are even worse than Hilton's in almost all cases. Although, quite frankly, our meetings with Hilton on Thursday and Friday were disappointing."

No new dates for contract talks have been set.

Union members want better wage and benefit offers as well as more job security, Gill said. As the economy improves, they also want assurances that more union jobs will be created, he added.

Jerry Gibson, area manager of Hilton Hawaii, said the two sides have agreed on "many" issues and that the company has offered wage hikes and increased benefit contributions.

"It's unfortunate that the union continues to be more concerned with engaging in disruptive behavior and conducting unnecessary demonstrations instead of focusing on what's important -- completing contract negotiations for a new contract," Gibson said.

The lobby action was the latest in a series of nationally connected union worker uprisings intended to pressure management since the expiration of most of Local 5's Waikiki hotel contracts on June 30. Previously, union workers held an informational rally at the Hilton and some 1,500 Hilton workers walked off the job for five days in mid-October. The strike, which coincided with similar actions in Chicago and San Francisco, disrupted the vacations of thousands of hotel guests.

"This demonstration did nothing to help bring the union closer to a new contract," Gibson said. "Union tactics such as work stoppages and demonstrations are harmful to employees, to the hospitality industry and to the state of Hawaii. The union should drop its mainland agenda and concern itself with what its employees want -- a new contract."

Even though Local 5 has chosen Hilton to set the standard for all Waikiki hotel negotiations, Gill said that the Blackstone-owned company has not been the target of all actions. Earlier this year, some 100 Local 5 members were arrested when they engaged in a civil disobedience sit-down that closed off a portion of Kalakaua Avenue in front of the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort & Spa and a one-day strike at the Hyatt.

"You don't want to have this kind of uncertainty where a visitor might choose not to come to Hawaii," said Keith Vieira, senior vice president and director of operations for Starwood Hotels & Resorts in Hawaii and French Polynesia. "Hawaii isn't a business destination like New York; no one has to come here. They come here for vacation, and on their vacation they want to be comfortable and to relax."

While Hawaii hoteliers have said that all of the actions have hurt Waikiki tourism, union activity at Hilton nearly cost Oahu its largest citywide fall conference. The Wisconsin-based International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans considered canceling this week's Waikiki conference after learning of the unresolved labor issues between Hilton and its Unite Here Local 5 workers. Gov. Linda Lingle and members of Hawaii's hospitality industry lobbied hard to preserve the conference, which is expected to bring $40 million to the state and about 28,000 room nights to Hawaii hoteliers.

Three weeks ago, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters agreed to help Local 5 seek a fair contract saving the conference. The agreement was forged after Hilton failed to reach agreement after short-term strikes in Honolulu, Chicago and San Francisco.

"We thought those strikes might bring it to a head, but when that didn't happen we thought it was improper and the investment company was trying to control the negotiations," said Rome Aloise, the international vice president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, who was marching alongside Local 5 workers yesterday.

Al Mixon, a Teamsters vice-president-at-large, urged union workers gathered at the beach yesterday to continue their fight for a fair contract.

"We can't let them put profits before people," Mixon said, adding that the Teamsters also have threatened to pull out the more than $100 million in pensions that they have invested in Blackstone if labor issues remain unresolved at their hotels.

Mike McGurn, a maintenance worker who has been employed by Hilton for 40 years, said support from other unions has given him hope that a fair contract will be obtained.

"We have a huge group of supporters, and they've really rallied with us," McGurn said." We're glad the International Foundation came to Hawaii."






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