|By Kristen Consillio, The Honolulu
Star-AdvertiserMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
September 03, 2010 --Workers at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort & Spa went on a one-day strike yesterday to protest working conditions and other issues.
Hyatt employees and supporters walked picket lines at the 1,229-room hotel, starting in the pre-dawn hours.
Hyatt General Manager David Lewin said the strike did not affect service. The hotel had hired 100 temporary workers to maintain operations while management pitched in to make beds and park cars to cover for absent workers.
The work stoppage was the third organized union action this year by Unite Here Local 5. The union represents 501 Hyatt workers of a total work force of 725.
The contract for the Hyatt workers expired June 30. Lewin said talks with resume Oct. 14.
The protest was expected to last until about 9:30 p.m., according to Cade Watanabe, community and political organizer for Local 5. Workers were expected to return to their jobs for the 10 p.m. shift, he said.
"Hyatt is the starkest example of an owner of a hotel that has been using the economy as an excuse to lock workers into a permanent recession," Watanabe said. "As the visitor industry rebounds and as the economy recovers, there's no reason why workers should be left behind."
While occupancy at the Hyatt is near peak levels, room rates have been discounted as much as 25 percent since 2008, Lewin said.
"Business is better, but it's not back," he said. "Also those customers, they're not going to the spa and having a massage or going to a restaurant and eating. Their disposable income is much different today than it was two years ago."
Lewin calls the union's tactics "sad and pathetic" since the parties have met only twice to put contract proposals on the table.
Among practices the union takes issue with is the hotel subcontracting work out of state. Hyatt approached the union 18 months ago about eliminating three positions in the accounting department, according to Lewin.
Another recurring issue on the union's contract agenda has been workload.
"The workload is overwhelming. They're just stacking up jobs on top of other jobs," said Jonathan Ybanez, a Hyatt utility steward. "I feel overlooked and unappreciated."
The union has had two other protests against the hotel this summer, including on July 22 when dozens of members and their supporters were arrested for allegedly blocking traffic in Waikiki.
"It's not the vacation we were expecting," said Florida resident Lily Ngo, a first-time Hawaii visitor who was waiting next to the picket line for a tour bus yesterday with her husband, Tan.
"Hawaii to me seemed like a paradise place -- peaceful, quiet, friendly. It's not as peaceful a resort area."
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