Honolulu, HI – Workers at the Hilton Hawaiian Village say the hotel’s mold problem is not confined to the new Kalia Tower, reporting that the third floor of the Lagoon Tower was closed over the weekend for antifungal painting. In response to an inquiry, Hilton spokeswoman Karen Winpenny said late Monday that the third floor of the Lagoon Tower is not closed. Local 5 of the union replied that workers could not get access to the third floor and a sign said access was restricted. The two statements are not necessarily contradictory — isolating part of a building for treatment would be a very different matter from placing every guest room out of service for weeks in an entire tower — and antifungal painting in the Lagoon Tower need not suggest a problem as widespread as the mold in the Kalia Tower seems to be.
Numerous mold experts say mold can usually be found, to one extent or another, in most buildings, from homes to office towers, and even a problem as entrenched as appears to have been the case in the Kalia Tower is more common than is widely known. Last year, for example, when mold forced the closure of most of the operating rooms in a Montreal hospital, officials decided to check all the hospitals in Canada for mold, and found problems in two dozen of them. The Hilton closed its one-year-old Kalia Tower to all guests recently after finding extensive mold on several floors. Since then Local 5 has said its members reported the mold months before the hotel acted.
Hilton Hotels actually mentioned the matter in its second quarter earnings report, saying it would take a $10 million charge for costs associated with remedying the situation. Hilton confirmed Monday that public health and environmental consultant Joseph Jarvis, hired by Hilton to look into the mold situation, was conducting an epidemiological survey of employees who worked in the Kalia Tower. The survey was also given to employees that worked in an unaffected tower as a control group. Officials from Hilton said for confidentiality reasons they would not reveal the number of employees taking it. Hilton did promise employees in the survey, a blank copy of which was shown to Pacific Business News, that their confidentiality would be preserved.
Jason Ward, research analyst for Local 5, said the union will have their own experts evaluate the survey for its methodology. He said there is a concern about the language and wording of the survey because many of their membership speak English as a second language. Ward said the union was notified of the survey last week, the day before the Hilton started to administer it. He said Hilton would not delay giving the survey until the union could have it evaluated by their own experts. "We were not given the opportunity to cooperate with them, which is what we would like to be in a position to do," Ward said. "Hilton proceeded without our input." Ward said they are getting a limited response from their informational requests to the Hilton on the mold situation, and are examining legal options. "This is a very tense time for us, because of the ongoing negotiations," Ward said. "We feel that what they are doing is exacerbating that." Negotiations between Local 5 of the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees Union and the Hilton and Sheraton hotels resumes on August 7. Talks are tense this year because Hilton and Sheraton have insisted for separate negotiations for contracts that would expire in different years, moves the union sees as tactics to dilute the workers’ bargaining power. With union leaders having recently been arrested for blocking the main entrance to Hilton Hawaiian Village during informational picketing, relations between Hilton and Local 5 are not currently at their most amicable.