Dozens arrested in union protest against hotel chain

By Ben Gutierrez - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - About a thousand members and supporters of the UNITE HERE Local 5 hotel workers union showed up in Waikiki Thursday to protest against the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Hotel, with more than 80 of them arrested after they blocked Waikiki traffic.

The red-shirted union members jammed the sidewalks fronting the Hyatt on Kalakaua Avenue.

Local 5 says the Hyatt is the only one in Waikiki that hasn't scheduled contract talks with them. The union says its contract with the Hyatt ended on June 30th.

"We should start negotiating," said Hyatt worker Jonathan Ybanez. "These people have been loyal. I've been loyal 13 years working for the Hyatt. I'm a local boy just trying to live, you know?"

"They're very serious about forcing our standards down, diminishing our health and welfare pensions, they're very serious about that," Local 5 Financial Secretary & Treasurer Eric Gill said, "but we're equally serious about defending our standards and pushing our working people forward."

After about an hour of rallying, 84 union members -- including Gill -- and their supporters walked into Kalakaua Avenue and sat down, prompting police to shut down the roadway.

Dozens of officers were already in place to take the protesters into custody.

Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha says his department was informed of the protest about a week ago, so HPD was able to use officers who were already scheduled to work to be at the rally.

"We also worked hard to facilitate the flow of traffic when it became apparent, when it became congested after the protesters blocked Kalakaua Avenue," Kealoha said.

Even so, it was still about an hour before all the protesters could be arrested and taken away. Traffic into Waikiki was detoured onto Kaiulani Avenue, but there was still a big traffic backup.

The union posted bail for the 84 protesters, who were charged with a petty misdemeanor of failure to obey a police officer.

"We intended, and I think we accomplished, making a powerful political statement," said Gill after his release.

Kealoha also said he was pleased with how officers handled the protest.

"Considering the magnitude of the event and the number of arrests, I believe the officers of the Honolulu Police Department did an excellent job," Kealoha said.

In a statement, the Hyatt Regency Waikiki said, "As early as May of this year, we began reaching out to leadership of Local 5 to arrange meeting dates for open negotiations.

"In response, union leadership has chosen to stage demonstrations rather than coming to the bargaining table to find solutions to issues that are important to our associates," the statement continued. "We hope for a contract that addresses an equitable financial agreement for wages and benefits and job flexibility to improve customer and employee satisfaction."

The protest was one of several orchestrated against Hyatt around the U.S. and Canada, including in Vancouver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, San Diego and Miami.

There's no word yet on whether the protest will spur contract talks.

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