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Hilton workers OK pact

Union members ratify a three-year contract with pay increases and other improvements

By Allison Schaefers

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 01:35 a.m. HST, Mar 09, 2011


Union workers at Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa ratified a three-year contract, ending nine months of heated bargaining at the hotel, the first to settle with Unite Here Local 5 this negotiating period.

The contract, which 99 percent of workers approved yesterday, includes a retroactive pay increase for workers, preserves full family medical and pension benefits and restores to the bargaining unit 75 previously subcontracted nighttime cleaning jobs. The contract also improves housekeeper workloads, protects workers from personal credit-history discrimination and subsidizes employee transit passes.

The union would not disclose wage increases. The average wage for Hilton union workers under the old contract was $16.67 per hour.

"It's an excellent contract," said Eric Gill, Local 5 financial secretary-treasurer. "I'm proud that the latest contract goes against the tide."

Gill said that the contract was "remarkable" given that private equity giant Blackstone Group bought the Hilton in 2007 when industry profits were at their highest and then had to contend with large tourism drops in 2008 and 2009. Like many Hawaii hoteliers, Hilton management faced corporate pressure to "make workers pay for the shortfall," he said.

Hilton's earlier proposals offered small wage increases and asked for health and pension givebacks, Gill said. Local 5 workers responded by joining a series of nationally connected union work actions that also resulted in tentative contract agreements between Hilton and Unite Here workers in San Francisco and Chicago.

Hilton Hawaiian Village union workers went on a five-day strike in October and one month later — with the support International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans — briefly took over the resort's lobby during a two-hour rally to demonstrate their unhappiness with the progress of labor talks.

"It was an uphill battle but we never gave up," said Barbara "Bobbie" Palencia as she enthusiastically waved red pompoms at a news conference called by Local 5 and Hilton yesterday to announce the accord. "It's a very good contract and we are all so happy."

Jerry Gibson, area vice president of Hilton Hawaii, called the contract "an important step for Waikiki and for the entire state of Hawaii."

"The agreement comes at an important time as we have the beginnings of a recovery and can now focus our full attention on the many projects that we have at hand that will lead us into the future," Gibson said at the news conference.

A $45 million makeover of the Hilton Hawaiian Village's Rainbow Tower will begin in April, and the resort, which at 3,500-plus rooms is Hilton's largest worldwide, is in the preliminary stages of a multimillion-dollar master plan. The contract also returns the resort's full focus to guest services at a time when the property and others in Hawaii are preparing to host the November Leader's Meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation.

Local 5 will use the Hilton contract, which runs through June 30, 2013, to set the standard for bargaining at other Hawaii hotels, Gill said.

"Hilton has broken ranks with the corporations that were determined to force a loss on members," Gill said. "Now those other companies will have to abandon that notion or get ready for a huge fight."

The battle has already started, Gill said. About 100 Local 5 members were arrested last year 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. Earlier this month, workers at the four Kyo-ya-owned hotels in Waikiki overwhelmingly supported a strike if negotiations break down.

Local 5 and representatives for Starwood Hotels and Resorts, which manages the Kyo-ya hotels, returned to the bargaining table yesterday. About 2,200 union workers are employed at the Sheraton Waikiki, Westin Moana Surfrider, Royal Hawaiian and Sheraton Princess Kaiulani.

"There is absolutely a definite and imminent possibility of a strike at Starwood Hotels," Gill said.

The union canceled its latest bargaining date with Hyatt to concentrate on Starwood, he said.

In 1990, union workers at Starwood's Waikiki properties walked off the job for more than 20 days, Gill said.

 






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