Managers at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa took over front desk duties, toted luggage and served coffee at Waikiki’s largest resort yesterday as hundreds of the hotel’s 1,500 unionized workers walked picket lines on the first day of a planned five-day strike.
The workers, members of Unite Here Local 5, picketed the resort’s entrances, shouting slogans and passing out leaflets to hotel guests and passersby.
Hilton’s top executive in Hawaii said that although he was surprised workers walked off the job, the company was ready with a contingency plan that included having managers step in to fill some positions and hiring replacement workers to do other jobs, such as housekeeping.
At one point union members spotted a van with brown paper taped over the windows, carrying what the pickets thought to be replacement workers. "Loser!" shouted some of the pickets, while others slapped the side of the white rental van as it entered the property at the main entrance on Kalia Road. When the van pulled into the Kalia Tower’s porte-cochere, nine young men climbed out and were whisked through the lobby into an elevator.
Jerry Gibson, area vice president for Hilton Hawaii, said with a few exceptions the 3,600-room resort was "running operations as normal."
A letter to guests said there would be no room service and no valet parking. Fresh towels and linens would be available in the hallways.
The beds were not made up, but "we don’t care about that," said Ed Ermak, 59, of Denver. "The towels were out in the hallway. We just pulled (the covers) back up and went out in the hall and changed the towels."
Deborah Oalmann, 51, of New Orleans said she and husband David, 52, had a 2 1/2 -hour wait for their room after checking in. "They’re trying really hard," she said of the hotel employees. "I feel bad for them."
"There’s no valet parking. We had to carry our own bags up to the room," said newlyweds Mike and Jill Stanley, 27 and 26, who arrived yesterday. On the upside, "they did upgrade us to a better room," said Mike.
Picketing workers said they expect conditions would deteriorate as the job action continued.
"The guests will notice that the service won’t be up to Hilton’s standards," said Grace Benson, a front desk clerk at Hilton’s Grand Waikikian Tower and union member. "People travel from all over the world and expect the Hilton standard. They’re not going to get it."
Gibson said managers and temporary workers were able to take care of housekeeping duties: "All checked-out rooms will be cleaned and ready. I’m proud to say that."
The Hilton did not offer discounts to guests as a result of the strike, said spokeswoman Cynthia Rankin.
Nine officers from the Honolulu Police Department were on hand to monitor the flow of traffic at the various hotel entrances. Sgt. Dave Barnett said no incidents were reported to HPD.
"We’re leaving it up to the picket captains to call a break in the picket line," Barnett said. "But if they don’t do it, we will."
Union members clad in fire engine red "Local 5" T-shirts walked the picket lines in shifts, with about 200 workers at all six resort entrances at any given time.
Slogans being shouted ranged from the basic: "What do we want? A contract! When do we want it? Now," to the more creative: "Mama mama can’t you see, what Hilton’s done to me. Used to be a human being, now I’m only a machine."
Stacey Mager and her husband, Mike, who are staying at the Hilton, said the strike has not 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."
Star-Advertiser staff writer Leila Fujimori contributed to this story.