A Hawaii union representing more than 2,700 workers has ratified an agreement with five hotels owned by Kyo-Ya Hotels and operated by Marriott after a strike that lasted nearly two months.

Paola Rodelas, Unite Here Local 5 spokeswoman, said 99.6 percent of more than 2,000 workers voted to ratify the agreement Tuesday.

“It’s historic,” Rodelas said. The strike has been going on for 51 days since Oct. 8. “We haven’t had a strike longer than this since 1970.”

Eric Gill from Unite Here Local 5 talks to news media about the new contract with five Hawaii hotels at Ala Moana Hotel Tuesday evening. Anita Hofschneider/Civil Beat

The union declined to provide a copy of the contract Tuesday evening. But Eric Gill, financial secretary and treasurer, confirmed that it includes $6-per-hour increases in wages and benefits over four years, the largest amount the union has ever negotiated.

The agreement involves four Waikiki hotels and one Maui resort: Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Sheraton Waikiki, Westin Moana Surfrider, Sheraton Princess Kaiulani and Sheraton Maui. Gill hopes it sets a precedent for future contracts including those with the Hilton and Hyatt.

Wages And Benefits

Hotel workers who are Local 5 members currently earn $22.14 per hour. Non-tipped workers will get a $1.50 raise and tipped employees will receive $0.75 per hour wage increase. The agreement also includes an additional 20 cents and 13 cents per hour for health care and pensions respectively.

The raises are retroactive to July, minus the days workers were on strike, Gill explained.

In lieu of creating a housing fund, the union’s bargaining committee agreed to set aside 10 cents per hour for child care, Gill said.

Demonstrators cross the Kalakaua Avenue and Lewers Street intersection near the entrance to the Sheraton Waikiki.
Picket lines have been set up for nearly two months at sites like the entrance to the Sheraton Waikiki. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2018

Over the next three years, workers will receive $1, $1.76 and $1.44 increases split between wages and benefits. Gill said the union will decide annually how to split up those amounts among wages, health care and other benefits. He said hotel workers will likely return to work by Thursday.

A spokeswoman for Kyo-Ya was not available for comment. The hotel said in a statement to the Honolulu Star Advertiser that it looks forward “to welcoming (employees) 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.”

Gill thanked Kyo-Ya and said the company agreed to decrease the number of rooms housekeepers clean per day. He believes the workload limitations will create more jobs. Pregnant women will also be allowed to clean fewer rooms.

The hotel also agreed to notify the union if it will be eliminating jobs by switching to automation, Rodelas said.

Both declined to elaborate further on the deal due to an ongoing strike by Unite Here in San Francisco.

The contract is likely a relief to hotel workers who lost wages during the strike. Union members who picketed for at least 30 hours per week had to rely on stipends from Local 5 ranging from $300 to $500 per week, far less than their typical pay of about $885 per week. Jowenna Ellazar and her boyfriend, both Local 5 members, spent more than $2,000 in savings to make up for the loss.

Ellazar was part of a joyous crowd gathered at Ala Moana Hotel Tuesday evening that sang and clapped to celebrate the news.

“We didn’t want to go on strike. We didn’t want to give up our paychecks. This is something we needed to do. We got an amazing contract,” she said, prompting her colleagues to erupt in cheers.

Economic Impact

Many guests weren’t happy with the strike’s impact on their vacations. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported that a couple from North Carolina staying at the Royal Hawaiian filed a class-action lawsuit after they paid nearly $2,400 for their honeymoon and arrived to find no room service, housekeeping, valet service and other limited amenities.

Others posted critical Yelp reviews. “It’s a ghost town except for the strikers out front,” wrote one commenter about the Moana Surfrider. “Ridiculous rates $300+ a night & they can’t even pay their workers a fair wage?” read another one-star review of the hotel.

On TripAdvisor, tourists debated avoiding strike-affected hotels and lambasted the companies’ lack of disclosure of the strike.

A Yelp reviewer criticizes the Moana Surfrider. 

It’s tough to estimate the overall impact of the strike to Hawaii’s visitor industry because tourism data isn’t out yet for October and November, says Eugene Tian, the state economist. But passenger counts were up 2.3 percent and hotel occupancy was down 2.5 percent in October, Tian wrote in an email.

“It seems that hotel occupancy has been impacted negatively from the strike,” Tian wrote, adding that “visitors may find other types of accommodation such as vacation rentals during October and November.”

How the tourism economy fared during the strike may be clearer Thursday, when the state is expected to release October visitor arrival and expenditure data. Data for November may not be available for another month.

Similar hotel worker strikes took place in Boston, San Jose, Oakland, San Diego, and Detroit.

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