About 100 hotel union demonstrators and their supporters were arrested yesterday during a sit-down in front of the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort & Spa that disrupted traffic on Kalakaua Avenue in front of Waikiki Beach.
The protest, which drew some 1,200 hotel workers and community members and was part of planned civil disobedience in 15 cities, is the second organized union action this year planned by Unite Here Local 5.
Hundreds turned out last month for a walk from Hilton Hawaiian Village to the Hyatt just prior to the expiration of contracts for some 6,500 Local 5 workers. Workers met earlier this month with Hilton and Starwood; however, they targeted Hyatt in its latest action because they said Hyatt is the only Waikiki hotel that did not begin negotiations over a new contract this month.
"This is our biggest action since 2006, when 3,000 gathered at the Blaisdell, and it’s one of the largest civil disobedience actions in Hawaii history," said Cade Watanabe, a spokesman for Local 5, over the chants of union members.
Hyatt is ready to negotiate a fair contract, said David Lewin, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort & Spa.
The company reached out to Local 5 in May but did not receive a response for another six weeks, Lewin said. Both sides have agreed to meet on Aug. 24 and 25, he said.
"They want to wait until the economy is better in the hopes that they’ll get better terms," he said. "There have been three protests in the last six months, and we’ve yet to sit down and talk."
Based on other negotiations with mainland Hyatts, Local 5 is gearing up for a battle. Union members claim that owners Goldman Sachs and the Pritzker family have tainted sessions by seeking concessions that include reduced health care and wages and unfavorable work conditions.
Violeta Cabuyadao, who has worked as a Hyatt housekeeper for 13 years, said the company and its owners "are trying to squeeze everything that they can out of us even though things are better for them, and that’s not right."
Leslie Nakayama, a Local 5 member who was arrested yesterday, said he was tired of bailing out corporations like Hyatt and Goldman Sachs.
"We strive to make a better life, but they are just keeping us down," said Nakayama, who supported the Hyatt action though he works at the Sheraton Moana Surfrider. "What happens there is going to affect us all."
At a news conference last night, Police Chief Louis Kealoha said the protesters were being processed and charged with refusing to get out of the street—a petty misdemeanor—and would be able to post bail.
He said the incident gave police insight into what to expect for the 2011 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation gathering in Honolulu.
"We kept everyone safe," he said. "For the most part it was a peaceful rally, and we were able to manage the crowd effectively."
Hyatt’s Lewin said it is unfortunate for Hawaii tourism that union leadership has chosen to stage demonstrations rather than come to the bargaining table to find solutions.
"While we have come to expect a certain amount of union posturing during negotiations, this delay is unfortunate, and work actions can be destructive to the still very fragile economy that relies so heavily on the local tourism industry," he said.
Lewin said Hyatt Waikiki’s union members are highly satisfied overall. More than 200 Waikiki union members have worked at Hyatt for more than 20 years, and the average associate has logged 15 years, he said.
"The turnover rate is 30 percent for this industry. For our company it’s 10 percent, and it’s 7.5 percent at this hotel," Lewin said. "Why would workers stay if they were unhappy?"
But Local 5 members and supporters say that Hawaii’s hotel workers are facing unnecessary layoffs and cutbacks as the industry is rebounding. Hyatt’s proposals in Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles have made deep health care cuts and other concessions, Local 5 said.
"Local 5 wants to fight for jobs Hawaii’s people need," said Eric Gill, Local 5 secretary/treasurer, who was among those arrested.
More than 470 Hawaii hotel jobs have been lost at the Hyatt, Hilton and six Local 5 Sheraton properties since 2006, he said.
Negotiations between Local 5 and Hilton, which began on July 7, are ongoing, said Jerry Gibson, Hilton Worldwide area vice president.
"We look forward to continuing negotiations in the coming weeks and to working with the union to reach a new contract that both considers challenging economic conditions and continues to provide our team members with competitive wages and excellent benefits," Gibson said.