Nearly 900 Hilton Hawaiian Village union employees voted on Sept. 15 to authorize a strike, giving their Unite Here Local 5 leadership the power to call for a strike should contract negotiations with the hotel's ownership break down.
"It's a significant decision on the workers' part that lets management know we're taking this very seriously," said Cade Watanabe, a spokesman for Local 5. "Workers at the Hilton and across our industry are willing to stand up and fight and sacrifice, if that's what it takes to show the Wall Street firms who now own hotels that workers aren't going to be left behind in this economy as the industry recovers."
Local 5 represents more than 6,000 hotel workers at Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott and Starwood properties across Hawaii who have been working without contracts since June 30. Waikiki has been the location of several Local 5 demonstrations this summer, including a one-day strike by Hyatt Regency Waikiki employees this month and another sit-in outside the property that led to employee arrests in July.
"Workers are incredibly frustrated," Watanabe said. "They're concerned about their futures and concerned about good quality jobs in this community, and all of that is what's at stake during this bargaining."
Watanabe went on to note concerns among union employees about outsourcing reservations and bookings positions, but also said that protecting good jobs wasn't limited to the clerical offices.
"Workloads have increased by at least twofold in some places because employers are combining jobs and they're not hiring where they really should be," he said. "So when you talk about a jobless recovery, that's exactly what we're dealing with right now in Waikiki."
In a statement, Jerry Gibson, area vice president for Hilton Hawaii, said the "strike vote is a common union tactic designed to attract media attention; it does not mean that a strike will occur."
"Hilton Hawaiian Village remains committed to returning to the bargaining table to negotiate a long-term contract that continues to provide our valued employees with job security, competitive wages and excellent health care and other benefits," Gibson added.
According to Watanabe, Local 5 has conducted six bargaining sessions with Hilton management since June 30.
"Obviously, the communication channels remain open between the two sides," Watanabe said. "But there have been no formal future negotiations planned as of yet."