|By Erika Engle, The Honolulu
Star-AdvertiserMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Nov. 10, 2012--Strained relations between Pacific Beach Hotel and its unionized employees may be coming to an end with the appointment of management company Highgate Hotels LP.
The conflict began a decade ago during efforts by the International Longshore & Warehouse Union Local 142 to organize employees.
"This is a great new beginning for this magnificent hotel and the valued associates of the Pacific Beach Hotel," said Geri Williams-Fitts, Highgate vice president of human resources.
Highgate will take over operations in approximately 60 days. In the meantime, incoming General Manager Rob Robinson and other hotel management are "learning this hotel, looking forward to enhancements and improvements to the products and services as well as services for our associates," she said.
The hotel employs more than 400 people, including 300 union members.
All will retain their jobs, and Highgate will maintain their current wages and benefits and "honor their value" to the hotel, she said. "This will be a turning of the page to a new beginning of the hotel."
Williams-Fitts appeared with ILWU Oahu Division Director Dave Mori in a joint news conference Friday morning.
About 90 percent of a contract covering the collective bargaining unit has been hammered out with hotel owner HTH Corp., and Mori believes the remaining 10 percent can be worked out quickly with Highgate and signed once it officially commences day-to-day operations.
"We've built trust and understanding -- and that's more than we've had for years," said Rick DeCosta, ILWU member and volunteer mobilizer.
Mori declared it "a monumental day for the workers," given the positive attitude Highgate has brought with it.
"For the first time in 10 years, we now have a management team, Highgate, to work with for the betterment of the workers and our tourism industry," Mori said.
It is one of "the few management entities that I'm aware of working from the inside out to improve employees' facilities including the break room, the cafeteria and then the external part," Mori said.
Mori expressed thanks to the hotel's owner for retaining Highgate, whose enthusiasm has employees optimistic for the first time in the decade-old dispute.
Head doorman Douglas Kometani, a 25-year employee, described the "light at the end of the tunnel" he can now see "after being introduced to Highgate," he said Friday. "I'm very thankful."
Bellman Kapena Kanaiaupuni was once terminated, then reinstated during the union's battles. "Things that happened here in the past is the past," he said vehemently. "We're looking to move forward with Highgate."
"We want the union and Highgate to come together with a settlement ... so people can come back to the hotel, so we're excited."
The ILWU imposed a national and international boycott against the hotel property, which will be immediately lifted upon signing of the union's first collective bargaining agreement after Highgate officially takes over management.
Numerous court battles in the years hence have yet to be resolved, and will remain for the union and Pacific Beach owner HTH Corp. to settle, Mori said.
Highgate is a privately held hotel management company with 40 locations in the U.S. and around the world. It is headquartered in Dallas with additional corporate offices in London and in New York City, where it is the largest owner-operator of hotels, Williams-Fitts said.
Asked whether the 280,000-gallon Oceanarium saltwater fish tank will stay, and whether Shogun restaurant, which shut Dec. 1, 2007, amid declining sales and the ongoing labor dispute, would reopen, Williams-Fitts could only say that every aspect of the hotel is being considered through "fresh eyes," though she acknowledged the tank is "certainly a very iconic landmark here in the islands."
This is not Highgate's first exposure to Hawaii.
The company manages the Courtyard by Marriott Waikiki Beach, where it is currently recruiting for three positions, including a director of sales and marketing, chief engineer and an on-call room attendant. It also has had involvement with Aston Hotels & Resorts, said Williams-Fitts.
World-renowned brands including Hilton, Starwood, Intercontinental, Hyatt and Wyndham are among its properties, which also include independent and boutique hotels, and many of them have union-represented employees.
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