comscore Striking hotel workers take their message to Waikiki Beach | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Hawaii News

Striking hotel workers take their message to Waikiki Beach

Honolulu Star-Advertiser logo
Unlimited access to premium stories for as low as $12.95 /mo.
Get It Now
  • (Video by Craig T. Kojima /

    Marriott hotel workers continue into day 5 of a strike by taking over a portion of Waikiki's public beach.


    Hotel strikers walked past a sunbather on the beach side of the Moana Surfrider Hotel during their march in Waikiki on Friday.


    Eric Gill of Unite Here Local 5, amplified his rally cry with a megaphone.


    Sophia, the robot worker used as a symbol of automation in the industry, was mocked during the strike near the Duke Kahanamoku statue in Waikiki on Friday.


    The robot shared the stage with Oahu Vistors Bureau’s Kainoa Daines during the Global Tourism Summit held earlier this month at the Hawai‘i Convention Center.

Marriott hotel workers in Hawaii took their five-day-old strike for higher wages and better benefits to Waikiki Beach on Friday.

About 1,000 Unite Here Local 5 strikers and sympathizers marched along the beach from the Sheraton Waikiki to the Westin Moana Surfrider, where they stood in front of the hotel yelling, “Don’t Check In, Check Out.”

While some sunbathers and frolicking families paid little attention to the picketing workers, others nearer to the action were forced by the sheer number of strikers to move out of their way. The strikers shouted, “We’ll be back,” as several Moana Surfrider guests watched and took video and pictures from their pool chairs and balconies.

“You are making millions off the beach, it’s time to share the wealth,” Eric Gill, secretary-treasurer of Unite Here Local 5 said from a megaphone.

About 2,700 workers at five hotels owned by Kyo-ya Hotels & Resorts and managed by Marriott began striking early Monday as contract negotiations, which started in June, reached an impasse. The hotels involved are the Sheraton Waikiki, Royal Hawaiian, Westin Moana Surfrider, Sheraton Princess Kaiulani and Sheraton Maui.

“We respect the right of our employees at Kyo-ya’s five properties in Hawaii to participate in a work stoppage … and we are committed to continuing our good faith bargaining,” Kyo-ya said in an emailed statement Friday. “Although Local 5 called for our employees to walk off their jobs, we value them and are ready to welcome them back.”

The union said there are no talks scheduled.

Kyo-ya said it has notified guests of the situation and has made adjustments to services. Some hotels have cut back on housekeeping, closed restaurants and are no longer offering room serv­ice.

“We understand that the demonstrations are causing some disruption. We apologize for the inconvenience, and we appreciate the patience and understanding of our neighbors, the community, and our guests,” Kyo-ya said.

Local 5 spokeswoman Paola Rodelas said Kyo-ya’s most recent offer, a 70-cent-an-hour increase for worker wages and benefits in the first year of the contract, didn’t come close to the $3-an-hour wage gain that workers were seeking.

The union wants to get a strong contract from Kyo-ya and Marriott since these contracts will be used to set the standard for contracts that are expiring at 20 Local 5 hotels in Hawaii this year, Rodelas said. Local 5 won’t start bargaining with other hotel brands until it secures contracts with Kyo-ya and Marriott, she said.

The action got mixed reviews from tourists. A Moana Surfrider guest from Ohio, who would only give her name as Amy, said the strike has put enough of a damper on her Waikiki vacation that she is trying to relocate to the North Shore or Ko Olina.

“It’s disappointing. I researched for weeks to find what I thought was the perfect place to stay. We’re not getting towels. There’s no room service and every restaurant is closed. Noise from the strike woke us up at 5:30 a.m. It’s had a tremendous impact on our vacation,” said the disgruntled visitor.

Other visitors expressed support for the workers. Steven and Melissa Locke, visitors from Allegany, N.Y., who were sunbathing on the beach in front of some of the union-targeted hotels, were not perturbed when the march came within inches of their formerly quiet spot.

“We’d just like to encourage these workers,” Steven Locke said. “There are plenty of people making millions of dollars at these hotels. The least that they can do is share. I’m glad that we are in America where the workers have the right to strike — that’s part of the reason that we come here instead of to Jamaica or some other place.”

The strike also garnered support from Honolulu City Councilmen Ron Menor and Joey Manahan, who spoke during a rally at a grass mound near the Duke Kahanamoku statue.

“We want you to know that the community is behind your struggle,” Menor said. “We share your concern that hotel management and owners aren’t bargaining in good faith.”

Manahan, who led workers in a round of hip-hip-hoorays, said he believes in Unite Here’s nationwide rallying cry that “One job should be enough” to provide a living wage.

Some 7,700 Marriott workers now are on strike in eight destinations nationwide, including Hawaii.

Nerissa Acdal, who has worked as a housekeeper at the Moana Surfrider for seven years, said Hawaii workers want fair wages, adequate staffing and respect.

“We have to clean 15 rooms a day, even though workers in San Francisco only have to clean 14,” Acdal said. “It’s so much work that I don’t get to take a lunch. The beds are heavy and the sheets are thick. I injured my shoulder working and had to have surgery. We need respect from management and from our owners. They need to care about the employees.”

Jason Murai, who has worked nearly four years as a telephone operator at the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani, said automation is another big concern for workers.

That’s why the union organized a beauty pageant between a union worker and “Sophia,” the robot that high-lighted an artificial intelligence segment at the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority’s Global Tourism Summit earlier this month.

Created by Hanson Robotics, Sophia is touted as the most “advanced human-like robot, created by combining breakthrough innovations in robotics, AI, and artistry.” She has appeared on CBS “60 Minutes,” “The Tonight Show” starring Jimmy Fallon and “Good Morning Britain.” Rodelas said the robot also has made the rounds at several Waikiki hotel properties.

“Sophia was scary,” Murai said. “I recently went to Japan and stayed at a hotel where robot dinosaurs checked me in at the front desk. I love my job and I want to keep doing it. But we’ve all had automated calls when they ask you to press a button for service. My whole department knows that we could be replaced.”

Comments (20)

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Terms of Service. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. Report comments if you believe they do not follow our guidelines.

Having trouble with comments? Learn more here.

Click here to see our full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak. Submit your coronavirus news tip.

Be the first to know
Get web push notifications from Star-Advertiser when the next breaking story happens — it's FREE! You just need a supported web browser.
Subscribe for this feature

Scroll Up