Staffing shortages a key factor in labor dispute at Hawaii’s largest hotel

Union contracts at The Hilton Hawaiian Village are set to expire in two days and union workers are asking for help to deal with the summer travel rush.
Published: Jun. 28, 2022 at 10:49 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 28, 2022 at 11:10 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Union contracts at the Hilton Hawaiian Village are set to expire in two days and union workers are asking for help to deal with the summer travel rush.

Aside from better pay and benefits, hospitality union workers are asking for full services and staffing as visitor numbers are nearing pre-pandemic levels.

Hawaii News Now reached out to the Hilton for comment, but did not hear back.

Union workers said they are feeling over-worked and overwhelmed.

“I’m tired, everybody’s tired, we’re working hard, we’re working really hard,” said Billy Kaupe, a hospitality union worker of Unite Here Local 5.

“They’re short-staffing us, they expect a lot out of us and we’re not getting any help.”

After 17 years with the Hilton Hawaiian Village, maintenance foreman Kaupe walked through the property Tuesday as a protestor.

He and other unionized workers with Unite Here Local 5 said the hotel needed more staff even before the pandemic.

Now it’s getting embarrassing, he said.

“The property is so short-staffed that the guests asked for service in the hallway,” said Kaupe. “That makes me look bad, that makes us look like we don’t care.”

The union said even though tourism is booming again, the Hilton and other hotels still haven’t resumed full room service, food and beverage amenities and daily housekeeping.

They believe the companies are squeezing out more profits by keeping their labor costs down.

“We still have a lot of workers that not back to work, we’re trying to get our jobs back,” said President of Unite Here Local 5, Gemma Weinstein.

“And we’re trying to make sure that tourists that come here in Hawaii will feel that Aloha, this is about Hawaii.”

Keith Vieira, of KV & Associates Hospitality Consulting, said changes to operations are due to a combination of reasons. One of the reasons: Housekeeping services are still an opt-in feature.

“You had to opt in, if you wanted to have maid service and for a while most people didn’t,” said Vieira. “That has relaxed somewhat.”

In addition, Vieira said it was also hard to get employees to return to work.

Hilton guests told Hawaii News Now they haven’t run into any issues with the hotel’s services but empathize for the workers.

“I don’t see executives, I don’t see them, they’re not who I deal with every day,” said Kate Lindsay, who is visiting from Seattle. “I see these people working very hard, we’ve been very well taken care of.”

“I do believe that they should be cared for, looked after, to the degree that their guests do,” said another visitor Gail Davis who was visiting from Chicago.

“I certainly hope that someone’s listening to them.”

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