Hyatt Regency Waikiki union workers walk off job

Hawaii Independent Staff

HONOLULU — 14 months after union hotel workers’ contract with Hyatt Hotels expired, workers have walked off the job at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki. Those workers join thousands of others in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, in a week-long strike.

In a press statement, Local 5, the Hawaii hotel worker union, says, “Hyatt has singled itself out as the worst employer in the hotel industry. In Hawaii, Hyatt is proposing to continue to outsource and subcontract work, and Hyatt has sparked controversy for its abuse of housekeepers. In Boston, Hyatt fired its entire housekeeping staff at three non-union hotels, replacing women who had worked at Hyatt for decades with temporary workers earning minimum wage. And in July, Hyatt turned heat lamps on striking workers in Chicago during a brutal heat wave.”

Hyatt workers have called for boycotts at 17 Hyatt properties and have led dozens of public
demonstrations all across North America. Already, Hyatt has lost over $20 million in hotel business as a result of the boycott.

Contracts for striking workers in Honolulu expired in June 2010, in Chicago and San Francisco in August 2009, and in Los Angeles in November 2009. In each of those cities union workers have reached agreements with other major hotel employers, like Hilton and Starwood.

Still, there are those who question the wisdom, and the motive, of striking at a time when unemployment remains precariously high and many Americans are unable to find work. Hampering the ability of Hawaii hotels to generate revenue necessarily impacts many sectors of Hawaii’s economy.

State Senator Sam Slom (R, Hawaii Kai-Diamond Head) says, “[The strike] will be extremely detrimental to Hawaii.” Slom was unaware of the walkout, but remains concerned that people are walking away from work during a time of high unemployment without an end in sight.

“I think anyone with a job at this time should count themselves very fortunate,” Slom said.

Violeta Cabuyadao, a housekeeper at Hyatt Regency Waikiki for 14 years, says, “I’ve had enough already. Workers and housekeepers like me all across our country are being abused by Hyatt and we’re not going to take it anymore. I’m on strike – not just for a decent contract – but to fight for our right to come together to stand up against Hyatt wherever they’re attacking workers. The Hyatt has shown us no aloha. This is our community and we’re not going to let Hyatt take that away from us.”

Local 5 representative Cade Watanabe says that workers are striking for more than wages and benefits concerns. A major point of contention that has prevented a contract agreement from being reached is Hyatt’s continuing practice of outsourcing jobs to nonunion workers.

“This is not just about wages and benefits,” says Watanabe. “It’s about solidarity and our ability to show support for our fellow workers in other cities.”