1,500 union members walk off the job at Hilton Hawaiian Village

Jason Kazmirski
Jason Kazmirski

By Minna Sugimoto - bio | email

WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Workers at Hilton's largest hotel worldwide went on strike Thursday morning, claiming the company isn't using the taxpayer bailout money it received to create jobs and improve working conditions.

Some 1,500 members of UNITE HERE Local 5 walked off the job at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki. Their union contracts expired more than three months ago.

Management officials say it's still early in the negotiations -- with nine bargaining sessions held so far -- so they're surprised and disappointed about the work stoppage, which is scheduled to last five days.

During lunch hour at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, normally-busy restaurants were deserted as food servers put down their trays for picket signs. They joined housekeepers, dishwashers, valets and other UNITE HERE Local 5 workers for a five-day strike.

For Jason Kazmirski and his family, who are visiting from Seattle, the search for a mid-day meal was on.

"We're going to go off site here and support outside of the Hilton," Kazmirski said. "Then we'll see how our rooms are cleaned when we get back and kind of go from there."

Hilton says it's continuing to operate with 300 replacement workers.

"We had a caterer checking us in," Jennifer Prieve, hotel guest, said. "She was really friendly and, you know, I think a bit overwhelmed, but we understand."

"I think this sadly is a mainland agenda," Jerry Gibson, Hilton Hawaii area vice president, said. "I think it has nothing to do with Hawaii. I think the union is trying to line their concerns on the mainland and use Hawaii as an issue. I take offense to that."

Inside, there was a collective sigh of relief as the much-anticipated Schools of the Future Conference -- with more than 1,000 educators from public, private and charter schools -- got underway. Planning for the event began a year ago.

"There was a lot of anxiety early this morning and there was a lot of adversity actually trying to get through the picket lines," Robert Witt, Hawaii Association of Independent Schools, said.

People in management positions, such as Assistant Food and Beverage Director Vincent Robinson, delivered boxed lunches for conference attendees.

"I believe they brought in extra help," Witt said. "They told us they would. They assured us that everything would go smoothly and it has."

Hilton officials say their employees are paid competitive wages and enjoy many generous benefits.

Copyright 2010 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.