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Turnabout In Hotel Dispute: Pickets At The Union Office   PDF  Print  E-mail 
Posted by Susan Lillard  
Sunday, 03 October 2004

by Sacha Mendelsohn

The local hotel union, which recently picketed the Hilton Hawaiian Village, has itself been picketed by Hilton subcontractor employees.

In an interesting twist to disputes between Hilton and its main labor union, employees of Team Clean picketed the office of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union late Tuesday afternoon.

Nearly 50 people gathered, shouted slogans and carried signs in a picket line in front of the Local 5 office on Ala Moana Boulevard.

Team Clean is a subcontractor that does cleaning for Hilton and Sheraton. Picketers said they were demonstrating to keep their jobs.

Local 5, which recently blocked the entrance to the Hilton Hawaiian Village during informational picketing, represents Team Clean workers as well as direct employees of the Hilton.

One of the many professionally made picket signs read, "I am more afraid of Eric than the mold." Eric Gill is leader of the union's Local 5.

Team Clean workers are among those most exposed to mold in the Kalia Tower, which got so bad the hotel moved all the guests out, taking more than 400 rooms out of service at the height of the summer vacation season.

Eric Gill said the intent of the picket was to undermine Local 5's strike vote next week by showing disunity within the union. "Its a bogus picket line, as simple as that," said Gill. "The vast majority of the people out there are not union members."

Joe Espinoza, vice president and general manager of Team Clean, said, "There were five managers out there, the rest were union members."

No one on the picket line would identify himself to Pacific Business News.

Espinoza said the purpose of the picket is to say that the employees are paying union dues and are not being represented by the union.

He said the union wants to "recapture" jobs Team Clean does at Hilton and Sheraton and give them to hotel employees.

Gill replied, "I have no interest in closing Team Clean or keeping it alive, I am interested in securing them [the workers] a living wage. We have nothing against Team Clean."

Jason Ward, research analyst for Local 5, said the union would like to eliminate subcontracting of jobs in the hotels, while offering the openings to the same people who now do the worker through a subcontractor.

He said subcontracted workers are paid substantially less than the regularly contracted hotel workers.

Gill said his predecessor negotiated Team Clean's current contract, and admits it is not a very good one, adding, "We know we can't fix this by negotiating with Team Clean, until we first negotiate with the hotel."

Gill said Team Clean's reaction indicates to him that their management thinks the union will successfully negotiate with Hilton and Sheraton on the subcontracting issue.

Relations between Local 5 and the Hilton were strained this year even before the closing of guest rooms in the Kalia Tower. In a break from previous practice, Sheraton and Hilton insisted on separate contract talks and requested contracts of uneven length.

The union concluded that a move to two contracts that expire in different years was an attempt to dilute the power of organized labor, and has made a point of sending the same negotiators with precisely the same bargaining positions to talks with both hotel chains, who, incidentally, are using the same lawyer to negotiate on their behalf.

Since the mold situation became public, the union initially indicated that it and the Hilton management were cooperating on this health issue, but more recently it has said Hilton management has taken several steps without consulting with the union and has not been forthcoming with all the information the union has requested.

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