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Union workers take over Hilton lobby, then retreat to the beach

By Allison Schaefers

LAST UPDATED: 5:40 p.m. HST, Nov 16, 2010


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

It was standing room only in the lobby as about 1,000 workers were joined by more than 800 members of the 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.

Hilton workers also held a five-day strike of the resort last month to pressure management, disrupting the vacations of thousands of hotel guests.

The Wisconsin-based International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans considered canceling its 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.

However, it was an agreement between Local 5 and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, one of the conference participants, that saved the conference.

"Three weeks ago we committed to help them reach a fair contract," said Rome Aloise, the international vice president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, who was marching alongside Local 5 workers today.

If Local 5 workers strike, the teamsters' drivers will not cross the picket lines, Aloise said.

The Teamsters joined Local 5's fight against Hilton after the company failed to reach agreement after short-term strikes in Honolulu, Chicago and San Francisco, he said.

"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," Aloise said.

Local 5 Spokesman Cade Watanabe said the Hilton and Local 5 reached tentative agreements regarding minor contract points on Thursday and Friday but that major issues remained unresolved.

Jerry Gibson, area vice president 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.

Monta-Lee Onion, who works at the Hilton Starbucks and is a mother of two, said the company has offered workers nickel pay increases and that they remain concerned about job security and outsourcing.

"The way the hotel is spinning it is a little twisted," she said. "We are fighting for a fair contract and we aren't really getting anywhere." 

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