‘Worth it’: After 51 days on strike, delighted hotel workers overwhelmingly vote to OK new contract

(Image: Regino Ojano)
(Image: Regino Ojano)
Published: Nov. 28, 2018 at 10:55 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It was decidedly quieter in Waikiki on Wednesday morning, a day after 2,700 Hawaii hotel workers approved a new contract and ended a 51-day strike.

Workers voted nearly unanimously on Tuesday night to approve the new contract, ending their picket lines and the second-longest work stoppage ever in Hawaii’s hotel industry.

“This is a very, very good contract,” said Eric Gill, secretary-treasurer of the Local 5 union, at a news conference Tuesday night. “We’re very happy with it. It was difficult. It was hard. But it was worth it.”

News of the agreement — which includes a $1.50 hourly wage increase for non-tipped workers in the first year and 75 cents more an hour for tipped workers — triggered tears of joy and celebratory singing on picket lines Tuesday.

“We’re overwhelmed. Very happy — we got the contract!” said Leo Cahiano, who works in maintenance at the Sheraton Waikiki.

Gina Aczon, who is in reservations at several hotels, said the strike has been hard on countless families — and came at a difficult time of year.

“I’m really happy that this is already done so that we can enjoy the holidays,” she said.

Added Evelyn Aldana, who works in housekeeping at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel: “I’m really happy and thankful to God."

The workers are set to return to work Thursday.

“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," Kyo-ya said, in a joint news release issued with Local 5. "We also want to thank the community for their patience and understanding throughout this process.”

BREAKING: After 51 days on strike, UNITE HERE Local 5 and Kyo-ya have reached a tentative agreement! Ratification is scheduled for today, with polls closing at 7:30pm. Thank you to all of our members and community supporters! #1job #MarriottStrike

Posted by Unite Here! Local 5 on Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The deal preserves the union’s job security goals, provides enough of a raise to put a dent in workers' high cost of living and includes new worker protections and workload reductions.

Under the deal, hotel workers will see boosts to their wages, pensions, and child or elder care funds.

Collectively, the increases amount to about $6 more an hour in pay and benefits by 2021.

Raises set to take effect in the contract’s first year are retroactive to July.

“We really have achieved a remarkable settlement here,” Gill said. “We significantly moved forward on the job security provisions. We’ve moved forward the rights of our women members, moved forward on the wage line, the benefit line. So this is a very, very good contract."

The strike created a huge economic hardship for workers, who have gone without a paycheck for seven weeks. Striking workers have been spending their shifts outside of affected hotels, clanging pots and chanting over bullhorns.

The noise and disruption prompted growing complaints from guests, who took to social media to complain about the lack of services — from housekeeping to dining — at hotels.

On Tuesday, news of the strike’s end triggered this response from visitors: Relief.

“I think it’s fabulous for the staff they get what they deserve. A strike for 51 days shows how important it is to them," said Michael Psarris, who is visiting from Australia.

Union members had been off the job at five Hawaii hotels: Sheraton Waikiki, The Royal Hawaiian, Westin Moana Surfrider, Sheraton ‪Princess Kaiulani‬ and Sheraton Maui.

And many of the workers said they didn’t expect the work stoppage to last so long.

(Image: Regino Ojano)
(Image: Regino Ojano)

“For this great victory, we are so speechless. We are overwhelmed with joy," said Jowenna Ellazar, a housekeeper at Sheraton Princess Kaiulani. “It was exhausting, but that was definitely something that we’ll never take back. We would do it all over again because we got an amazing contract.”

Last week, Hawaii hotel workers rejected the latest wage and benefit offer presented to them — a package that Kyo-ya said was generous and included concessions on wages, benefits and workloads.

The striking workers remained on the picket lines through Thanksgiving, forcing many hotels to continue to cut back on many services.

The strike was the hotel industry’s longest Hawaii work stoppage in nearly 50 years. In 1970, some 2,000 neighbor island hotel workers walked the picket lines for 75 days.

And it took a heavy toll on workers and management.

“Nobody wins in this. The workers really don’t recover the funds, the tips they would have gotten so they suffer,” Keith Vieira, a former Starwood and Sheraton hotel executive, told Hawaii News Now last month.

“For the hotel teams, the managers are working 10-hour shifts and then doing their regular jobs every day. So they’re putting in 18-19 hour days so they don’t win."

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