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Contract agreement satisfies unionized hotel workers

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    Unite Here Local 5 workers, including those at the Sheraton Waikiki, are expected to approve a new contract that includes a $1.40-per-hour wage increase.

Union workers at Kyo-ya Hotels & Resorts and Starwood Hotels & Resorts are likely to approve a new three-year contract that includes a $1.40-per-hour wage increase.

Unite Here Local 5, which represents the workers, was preparing to strike just days before negotiators reached a tentative agreement on the new contract.

"We thought we were going out on strike this past week," said Godfrey Maeshiro, who is a bell captain at the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani hotel and has worked at the property for 45 years. "Bargaining didn’t go well on Wednesday. We had picket lines set up and we finished all the signs on Thursday. Our army was ready."

Instead, Maeshiro said he and others will cast their votes in favor of the agreement when union members are asked to ratify it on Friday. The contract preserves union workers’ benefits and provides a $1.40 wage increase — retroactive to July 1 — over three years. The package also includes employer contribution increases that protect pension benefits for future and current retirees.

"We expect our members will ratify this agreement," said Eric Gill, Local 5 financial secretary-treasurer.

Provisions of the new agreement, which was reached early Saturday morning, were similar to the pattern set earlier this month when Local 5 and Hilton Hawaii settled the first hotel workers contracts of this bargaining season. The Hilton contract followed a five-day strike last October, which was timed to coincide with a similar strike in San Francisco.

"Coming to terms with Hilton was a linchpin in getting this contract," Maeshiro said.

The 2,800 Local 5 workers who are employed at the Sheraton Waikiki, Sheraton Kauai, Sheraton Maui, Moana Surfrider, Royal Hawaiian and Princess Kaiulani voted March 3 to authorize a strike. Union workers at these properties had been working without a new contract since June 30.

Bargaining between Local 5 and Starwood and Kyo-ya broke off late Thursday night so that negotiators could find safety from the tsunami, said Local 5 spokesman Cade Watanabe. Talks resumed again early Friday afternoon and continued through the night until an agreement was hammered out, Watanabe said.

With Hilton and Starwood’s larger contracts behind them, Local 5 is focusing its attention on getting a new contract for Hyatt workers, Gill said.

"We are proud and happy to move our campaign on to the next hotels that need to step up to the plate," Gill said.

Local 5 represents workers at 24 hotels throughout the Hawaiian Islands; however, the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort & Spa is the last of those still negotiating for a new contract.

Negotiations to this point have been contentious. Some 100 Local 5 members were arrested in July when they engaged in a civil-disobedience sit-down that coincided with national actions. Workers followed up on that action, which closed off a portion of Kalakaua Avenue near the Hyatt, with a one-day strike in September at the property.

David Lewin, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Waikiki, said yesterday that the property looks forward to returning to the bargaining table.

"Hyatt remains guided by our respect and appreciation for our associates, who deserve competitive compensation, comprehensive benefits and an excellent work environment," Lewin said.

Keith Vieira, senior vice president and director of operations for Starwood, said it’s time for Hawaii’s hotel industry to resolve its labor issues and focus on new challenges brought on by the nuclear scare in Japan and by natural disasters in Japan and Hawaii. State tourism is already showing signs of softening and group cancellations related to the uncertainty in Japan, Vieira said.

"It usually takes six to 12 months to recover from a disaster," he said. "These are difficult times in Hawaii for our residents, employees and for the different businesses big and small. Let’s get out there and deal with these challenges."


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