Tovin Lapan
Tovin Lapan

More than 2,700 Hawaii hospitality workers have concluded a nearly two-month strike after reaching an agreement with hotel ownership and management.

The workers, employed at Marriott-operated hotels owned by Kyo-ya Hotels, were represented by Unite Here Local 5, which ratified a new contract on Nov. 27, with 99.6% of the workers voting for the agreement, according to union spokeswoman Paola Rodelas.

Along with increases in wages and benefits, the contract includes new language and provisions regarding job security, including use of subcontractors, worker involvement in technology deployment, a childcare and eldercare fund, and new rules for housekeeper workload and safety.

The strike lasted 51 days, the longest hotel work stoppage in the Aloha State since 1970, when approximately 2,000 island hotel workers spent 75 days on the picket line.

A major negotiating point for Unite Here was the relatively high cost of living in Hawaii, and the new contract provides $6-per-hour increases in wages and benefits implemented over a period of four years, according to the union. Additionally, 10 cents per hour will be set aside for a new eldercare and childcare fund. The agreement also covers increased contributions to the worker pension fund.

"It truly is a historic agreement," Rodelas said. "It's the best wage and benefits increase that we have ever received. The job security pieces are historic as well. We wanted to make sure that one job is enough in Hawaii and that there are sustainable jobs for people. This is especially important here in Hawaii, where tourism is the number one industry, and so many people are dependent on the industry for their livelihood."

The agreement covers five properties: Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Sheraton Waikiki, Westin Moana Surfrider, Sheraton Princess Kaiulani, all in Waikiki; and Sheraton Maui. Employees started returning to work on Nov. 29.

"The new agreement meets the needs of our employees and Kyo-ya,"  Kyo-ya said, in a joint news release issued with Local 5. "We look forward to welcoming them back and look forward to more years of working together to successfully provide world-class service to our guests. We also want to thank the community for their patience and understanding throughout this process."

The new contract also includes limits on the number of rooms a single worker can clean per day, a provision the union hopes will create more jobs overall and ensure worker health and safety. Additionally, the agreement adds new language regarding worker safety, including providing housekeepers with panic buttons, and procedures for how sexual harassment and assault will be handled, Rodelas said.

"The mood among workers is overwhelmingly positive. We feel this is an agreement that will positively affect them and their families, and future generations as well," Rodelas said. "I don't think anyone expected the strike go for 51 days, even though the union did its best to prepare them to go for as long as it took. But no strike has gone this long since 1970, and it was a big sacrifice for the workers. Nonetheless, the mood held really strong throughout the strike."

During the strike, which started on Oct. 8, the more than 2,000 workers gave up their regular wages, living off union stipends. Picket lines were organized in front of the five properties, and services at the hotels were disrupted.

Visitors booked in the Marriott-operated hotels impacted by the strike complained on TripAdvisor, Yelp and other outlets that they were not warned ahead of time about the work stoppage, and many regular hotel services, such as room and housekeeping service, were not available during their stays. A couple from North Carolina staying at the Royal Hawaiian filed a class-action lawsuit after spending more than $2,000 on their honeymoon and arriving to find no room service, housekeeping and other limited amenities, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

It is too soon to tell if the negative comments and service disruptions had a deeper economic impact on Hawaii's most visited resort area of Waikiki. Just-released hotel occupancy data from the Hawaii Tourism Authority showed little change in Waikiki visitation in October, with a roughly 3% increase in average daily rate and 2% drop in occupancy. November figures have not yet been released.

Three other hotels in Hawaii operated by Marriott but not owned by Kyo-ya Hotels have employees represented by Unite Here Local 5 and are still awaiting a new contract. The union expects to continue negotiations with those properties, Waikiki Beach Marriott, Sheraton Kauai and Waikoloa Beach Marriott, based on the recently ratified contract with the other hotels and hopes to conclude that process in the coming weeks as well, according to Rodelas.

Marriott hotel worker strikes also took place in Boston, San Jose, Oakland, San Diego, and Detroit, and more than 2,500 Marriott workers in San Francisco are still on strike.

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