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labor Strike Could Disrupt High-Profile Events Coming to Oahu and Maui This Week

The hotel strike on Oahu could put a damper on events coming to Hawaii this week. The American Dental Association’s meeting is bringing some 16,200 attendees. Many of whom will be staying at hotels on strike.

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  • BRUCE ASATO / BASATO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Albert Verdadero, a Unite Here Local 5 worker at the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani Hotel, held a sign along Kamehameha Highway on Tuesday near the entrance to the Turtle Bay Resort as the union took its informational picket to the North Shore.

  • BRUCE ASATO / BASATO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Jason Cabe, a Unite Here Local 5 union worker at the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani Hotel, held a sign Tuesday on the side of Kamehameha Highway at the entrance to the Turtle Bay Resort, which is a nonstriking Local 5 hotel. The group plans to picket at Haleiwa Town Center today

The hotel strike on Oahu and Maui could put a damper on two high-profile group events coming to Hawaii this week, including Waikiki’s largest convention of the year.

The American Dental Association’s 2018 meeting is expected to bring some 16,200 registered attendees and guests to Waikiki from Thursday to Monday. On Maui the strike could affect Spiked!, a Hawai‘i Food &Wine Festival event expected to bring up to 500 guests Saturday to the Sheraton Maui, which was charging $590 for two tickets to the event and a one-night stay.

Some 2,700 unionized hotel workers went on strike Oct. 8 when negotiations between Unite Here Local 5 and Kyo-ya Hotels &Resorts, which owns the Marriott-managed Sheraton Waikiki, The Royal Hawaiian, Westin Moana Surfrider, Sheraton Princess Kaiulani and Sheraton Maui, reached an impasse.

Since then, guests staying at affected properties or in nearby hotels have complained of noisy picket lines and union workers disrupting their beach time by standing on shorelines yelling, “Don’t check in. Check out.”

Kyo-ya declined to comment on the strike Tuesday.

Some of the affected hotels are unable to provide housekeeping service or have to reduce the frequency of room cleanings. The hotels have also closed restaurants and stopped offering room service. Guests at some properties have reported having to stock their own towels and in-room amenities, take out their own trash, park their own cars and carry their own luggage.

Teri Orton, general manager of the Hawai‘i Convention Center, said in a statement, “We greatly value our longtime relationship with the American Dental Association and the many members who have continued to return to Hawaii for the association’s highly anticipated meetings at the center. Our team and our industry partners are working closely with ADA leadership to ensure that the more than 16,200 registered attendees and their guests receive our warmest aloha during this world-class gathering of dental professionals.”

The ADA event, which will fill rooms at 28 hotels throughout Waikiki, including those affected by the strike, is of particular importance to Hawaii. This year’s event is expected to generate more than $76.8 million in visitor spending for Hawaii, but it’s also a critical group because of its propensity to return.

ADA was the largest-ever gathering at the Hawai‘i Convention Center when it brought 30,000 attendees in 1999. Hawaii also hosted the ADA convention in 2009, when the association celebrated its 150th anniversary.

There’s also a lot riding on Spiked!, which is the first large walk-around event held on Maui during this season of the 8-year-old Hawai‘i Food &Wine Festival.

Hawai‘i Food &Wine Festival CEO Denise Yamaguchi said, “There’ll be a number of high-profile chefs and media coming to the event. It’s very important that the event run smoothly. We hope, given the strike, that management will be able to provide the highest level of service that they’ve always provided to us.”

Yamaguchi said the festival has not made any changes to Spiked! since Sheraton Maui management has assured her that the hotel will have enough staff to take care of the guests, who could rise to 500.

Local 5 spokeswoman Paola Rodelas said the union has heard reports that the striking hotels have hired replacement workers from nonunion hotels like the Prince Waikiki. Staffing agencies like People Who Clean and HIEmployment, which union workers picketed Monday, have sent in scabs to cross picket lines, Rodelas said.

The affected properties in Waikiki also have begun soliciting temporary housekeepers and dishwashers on Craigslist, offering free meals, free parking and bonus pay for those who work three consecutive days.

“We can only speculate on the staffing levels, but based on individual guest complaints, we can’t see how they have enough staffing for large events,” Rodelas said. “We’re hearing that they are struggling to find workers, especially on Maui.”

Joseph Toy, president and CEO of Hospitality Advisors LLC, said large groups are labor-intensive and that their contracts typically spell out service levels, which often come with high expectations.

“Everything from check-in to housekeeping, laundry, banquet services, transportation, meeting facilities and support are typically negotiated and wrapped into meeting contracts. If the hotels can’t fulfill the service levels in the contracts, there may be some liability,” Toy said.

Toy said he doesn’t think the strike will have a long-term impact on the meetings market, since historically Hawaii hotel strikes are short-lived and meeting planners tend to book far out. However, Toy said there could be “cancellations from groups coming several months from now because of concerns that they won’t be serviced properly.”

Fallout depends on how long the current strike lasts and feedback on how well events like ADA and the Hawai‘i Food &Wine Festival are handled, he said.

Rodelas said Kyo-ya has not offered Local 5 new bargaining dates. Workers are seeking job protection against automation, safer workplaces and wages that allow Hawaii union workers to live on the pay from one job.

The average Local 5 housekeeper makes roughly $22 an hour in a state where the National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that it takes more than $35 an hour to afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment. Rodelas said the union has asked for a $3-an-hour increase in wages for the first year, and Kyo-ya has offered a 70-cent increase spread among wages and benefits.

On Tuesday, Local 5 filed an unfair-labor-practice charge against the Sheraton Maui stemming from management’s decision to ban three union employees from the property for one year for passing out leaflets to guests in the hotel’s porte-cochere.

Also Tuesday, striking workers and community sympathizers waved signs in front of the Turtle Bay Resort, which is a nonstriking Local 5 hotel. Today the group plans to picket at Haleiwa Town Center, followed by Nanakuli Beach Park on Friday and the center of Waipahu on Sunday.