comscore Column: Help hard-hit tourism workers with safe reopening of industry | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
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Column: Help hard-hit tourism workers with safe reopening of industry

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  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / SEPT. 2013
                                Eric Gill is financial secretary-treasurer of UNITE HERE Local 5.

    CRAIG T. KOJIMA / SEPT. 2013

    Eric Gill is financial secretary-treasurer of UNITE HERE Local 5.

Our Legislature is getting back to work.

What about the rest of us? When can we go back to work? Are we safe to go back to work? How can we go to work when there’s no school for our kids? Will our families have medical coverage when we go to work in a pandemic?

Our Legislature must address the terrible problems of Hawaii’s working people.

With tourism in a global meltdown, many thousands of Hawaii’s workers are unemployed and many businesses are in danger. While the Legislature must plan a more balanced economy to secure our future, Hawaii needs the visitor industry up and running soon so our people have employment to support our families.

Opening up our visitor industry must be done carefully. Hawaii cannot afford a COVID-19 outbreak in any of our hotels, or our entire industry will be undermined.

In order to get our guests to come back, Hawaii needs to distinguish itself as a safe destination.

In addition to defeating the virus infection in our community, we need very stringent safety standards for hotel operations. Hawaii cannot just rely on minimal government safety regulations — we have to exceed them. And, Hawaii needs a way to effectively enforce hotel safety regulations.

In our union hotels, workers are organizing to address hotel safety issues. The union and our unionized employers are discussing a long list of detailed operational safety measures in preparation for reopening hotels, and union hotel workers have a voice in ensuring safety for workers and guests. There will be a high standard of worker and guest safety in union hotels.

Safety standards in this pandemic era must include operational changes from check-in to check out, ensuring adequate supplies of masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment, training and retraining workers on safe operations and proper use of protective gear, changes in absenteeism and sick leave policy to ensure workers don’t work sick, and provisions to ensure that high-risk workers can pass on work opportunity to others without penalty.

We’ve learned in this pandemic that the health of every person affects us all. Every hotel worker should have health care; every person should have health care. No worker should be forced back to work without pandemic safety precautions in place.

Hotel workers are essential workers, and hotels are essential to Hawaii’s economy. We have a chance to reopen tourism and rebuild our employment base over the next months, but all it takes is one virus outbreak to disrupt all our efforts and prolong our community’s economic freefall.

The problem will be at the hotels where workers have no voice in decision-making on safety policies, and no way to deal with unsafe conditions. For hotels whose workers do not yet have union rights and support, the state must ensure that similar pandemic safety measures are followed.

Since worker safety and guest safety is the same thing in hotels, it is hotel workers who can be relied upon to speak up for hotel safety. The best way to ensure that hotel safety rules are followed is to empower workers to speak out freely and report safety violations without fear of losing employment.

In order to ensure that Hawaii is a safe place to stay, hotel workers need to be tested at least weekly. Guests need to be tested on arrival, and regularly during their stays. And our community needs widespread testing for local residents so that Hawaii can continue our reputation as a safe place in the world to visit.

Our Legislature needs to make sure that we reopen tourism the right way, the safe way, the way that rebuilds our economy.

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