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Hilton Hawaiian Village & Unite Here Workers Reach Tentative Agreement

By Allison Schaefers, The Honolulu Star-AdvertiserMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

March 08, 2011--Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa union workers, who have been without a contract since June, have reached a tentative agreement with the company and will vote today on whether to accept it.

The proposed contract is a "meaningful step forward," said Cade Watanabe, spokesman for Unite Here Local 5, the hotel workers union.

"We have reached an agreement in principal," said Jerry Gibson, Hilton Hawaii area vice president, adding that details will be released today at a news conference at Hilton Hawaiian Village.

Ratification of a new contract would be a major move in what has been a contentious battle between Hawaii hotels and Unite Here. Hilton Hawaiian Village has been the scene of a series of nationally connected union worker uprisings since the expiration of contracts for some 6,500 workers at most major Hawaii hotels.

Hilton Hawaiian Village union workers went on a five-day strike in October and one month later briefly took over the resort's lobby along with the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans. These activities, which threatened the Waikiki visitor experience, were designed to demonstrate the union's unhappiness with the progress of labor talks.

"We were successful in terms of being able to defend and maintain our health and welfare standards as well as our pension standard and address some subcontracting issues, as well," Watanabe said of the new contract. "It's a good contract for workers here in Hawaii and for the employers, as well."

Workers will vote on the contract from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Watanabe said.

Unite Here workers at Hilton hotels in San Francisco and Chicago also reached tentative agreements.

"We are pleased to have achieved a fair settlement for all sides -- one that allows workers to move forward and share in the robust recovery that the hotel industry is experiencing," said John Wilhelm, national Unite Here president. "We applaud Hilton for leading the way and upholding a decent standard for service workers in the hospitality industry."

Reaching an accord in Honolulu is particularly significant because it is Local 5's largest single hotel in Hawaii and Hilton's largest hotel worldwide, Watanabe said. Roughly 1,500 union workers are employed at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. They include housekeepers, bellmen, front desk, valets and food service workers, he said.

Bargaining continues for some 5,000 Hawaii hotel workers and thousands more Unite Here hotel workers across North America.

While Hilton has set the standard for Local 5's Waikiki hotel negotiations, the Blackstone-owned company has not been the only target of union protests this negotiating period. Some 100 Local 5 members were arrested last year when they engaged in a civil disobedience sit-down that closed off a portion of Kalakaua Avenue in front of the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort & Spa and a one-day strike at the Hyatt. Earlier this month, workers at the four Kyo-ya-owned hotels in Waikiki overwhelmingly authorized a strike vote.

Local 5 and representatives for Starwood Hotels and Resorts, which manages the Kyo-ya hotels, are slated to return to the bargaining table today, Watanabe said. The union represents about 2,200 workers at the Sheraton Waikiki, Westin Moana Surfrider, Royal Hawaiian and Sheraton Princess Kaiulani, he said.

"We are working hard to resolve the remaining issues at the bargaining table and finalize an agreement," said Angela Vento, Starwood Hotels and Resorts' regional director of sales and marketing for Hawaii and French Polynesia.

No new dates have been set for bargaining with the Hyatt Regency Waikiki, Watanabe said.

"We still have some major issues and challenges that are confronting us with reaching settlement with Starwood and Hyatt," he said. "We need to deliver contracts that make sense for all workers."


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