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Hilton Hawaiian Village Owner, The Blackstone Group,
and Union at Odds Over Job Security
By Gene Park, The Honolulu Star-AdvertiserMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

October 15, 2010 --Job security is one of the bigger sticking points for union workers when it comes to negotiating a new contract with the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

The workers' contract expired on June 30. The last meeting between United Here Local 5 officials and Hilton's owner, The Blackstone Group LP, was on Sept. 29.

"Job security is the issue here," said Cade Watanabe, community and political organizer for the union. "Their proposals to date have signaled to us that they're not serious about settling this contract."

Hilton Hawaii's area vice president, Jerry Gibson, said the company has offered to increase wages, maintain existing pensions and increase its health fund contributions to ensure that employee health care remains fully paid with no employee contributions.

"Yet even under current difficult economic conditions and with high unemployment, the union also continues to insist on unrealistic wage and benefit increases and several other costly proposals," Gibson said.

As of late September the union was seeking a three-year contract with average hourly wage increases of 40 cents the first year, $1 the second year and $1.25 the third year, according to proposal highlights passed to union members.

Housekeepers at the Hilton, for example, earn about $16.50 an hour now.

Watanabe recounted an episode he says illustrates a negative attitude on the part of Hilton.

"The chief negotiator for Blackstone was asked at bargaining with hundreds of members in the room whether we can set some dates early on in October," Watanabe said. "He said, 'Well, I don't have my calendar.' This is the kind of stuff we have to deal with at the bargaining table directly in terms of their attitude toward being able to settle a decent contract."

The union and the company are expected to return to the bargaining table Oct. 25 and 26.

The Hawaii strike came at the same time that union workers in San Francisco with Unite Here Local 2 went on strike at the Hilton Hotel Union Square.

"Local 5's work stoppage at Hilton Hawaiian Village, closely coordinated with a work stoppage on the mainland, confirms that the union's goal is to pursue a national agenda rather than to negotiate a fair contract that provides job security for its employees," Gibson said.

Agnes Tolentino, a Waimanalo resident and 16-year veteran at the hotel who works in reservations, said all she wants is assurance that her job will not be outsourced.

In recent months there have been weeks where she worked only two eight-hour shifts.

"Less hours for me, less pay," Tolentino said.

She said some reservations calls are taken by subcontracted firms in California and the Philippines.

"I fear if they subcontract it, I might not even have a job," Tolentino said. "I love living in Hawaii, but I don't want to be forced to move and I love my job."

About 100 jobs at the Hilton have been lost since 2006, Watanabe said. About 470 jobs have been lost at Local 5 properties in the same time period.


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