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Hilton Hawaiian Village workers go out on strike

By Alan Yonan and Craig Gima

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 03:51 p.m. HST, Oct 14, 2010


Unionized Hilton Hawaiian Village workers went out on a five-day strike in Waikiki this morning.

The strike by UNITE HERE Local 5 began at 4 a.m. with about 40 picketers at the two main entrances to the hotel off Kalia Road and Ala Moana Boulevard.

More workers arrived later in the morning and put up picket lines at the service and bus entrances off Paoa Road.

About 200 picketers chanted, "Who's got the power? We've got the power," and "What do we want? A contract." as they walked the line.

Roughly 1,500 workers at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, the chain's largest hotel, are unionized. They include housekeepers, bellmen, front desk, valets and food service workers.

The hotel posted a letter to guests in the lobby and elevators, explaining that management was "bargaining in good faith" with the union.

Managers said non-union workers were brought in and that they expected no interruption in housekeeping services. "Our primary responsibility and priority is to service you, our valued guests, and to ensure that your stay with us is a pleasant and comfortable one," the letter said.

Local 5 spokesman Cade Watanabe said the union and management have been negotiating over wages, working conditions, job security and outsourcing. But no agreement has been reached on any issue.

Police monitoring the strike said the pickets have been peaceful. Tour buses arriving at the hotel were slowed by the pickets, but were still able to get in and out of the driveway.

Traffic was backed up on Kalia Road down to Ala Moana Boulevard.

"We're leaving it up to the picket captains to call a break in the picket line," said police Sgt. Dave Barnett. "But if they don't do it, we will."

Stacey Mager and her husband Mike, who are staying at the Hilton, said the strike hasn't stopped them from enjoying their first trip to Hawaii.

"Overall, every worker we've dealt with has been very pleasant and willing to help you out," she said.

Mager, from Prior Lake, Minn., said the strikers did wake them up.

"We woke up this morning to screaming and drumming," she said. "We thought people were doing yoga or something."

About 70 percent of union Hilton workers turned out for a strike vote Sept. 15, and 95 percent approved a strike if necessary.

The vote was part of the national Hotel Workers Rising campaign that links union workers in about 15 states. Unionized workers in Chicago hotels overwhelmingly approved a strike vote in August and workers in San Francisco also took a strike vote Sept. 15, he said.

Hilton workers in San Francisco went on a six-day strike that began yesterday.

The contract with the Hilton and other Waikiki hotels expired on June 30 and the union has staged several work actions to prod negotiations.

In July, union demonstrators and their supporters were arrested during a sit-down in front of the Hyatt Regency Beach Resort & Spa that disrupted traffic on Kalakaua Avenue in front of Waikiki Beach. And, less than two weeks ago, Hyatt workers said they went on a one-day strike for better wages, conditions and benefits.

Picketers said they are concerned that the Blackstone Group, the private equity firm that bought the Hilton chain, doesn't have worker's best interests at heart.

"Blackstone has $100 billion in assets and $30 billion in cash on hand. They can afford to take care of us," said Shane Yabui, 55, an electrician who has worked at the hotel for 28 years.

"Being a single parent, I am concerned with my future. But I'm also concerned for my children, that there will be a future in Hawaii for them," he said.

"Blackstone is trying to squeeze the workers," Watanabe said. "They're trying to lock the workers into a permanent recession."

Watanabe said workers on the picket lines are being paid from a strike fund.

In a written statement, Jerry Gibson, the area vice president for Hilton Hawaii, called the strike "unfortunate."

Gibson said Hilton workers are paid competitive wages and generous benefits, including fully paid health insurance.

He called said the union's wage and benefit proposals "unrealistic."

 "Instead of being committed to driving business out of Hawaii, Local 5 should commit itself to resolving our differences at the bargaining table," Gibson said.







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