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Union: Hotel Workers Not Being Hired Back as Visitors Return to Hawai‘i

Casey Harlow
Hawaii Public Radio

Hawai‘i's visitor numbers are rebounding but the union that presents hotel workers says its members are being called back at a lagging rate. The Conversation examined how hotels and airport concessions are hiring back their workers after laying off many due to the pandemic.

Eric Gill, head of UNITE HERE Local 5, says it has been a daily battle to get his members back and working. In some cases, workers are back but with reduced hours.

"Many of our hotels are 90% (occupancy) and over—they certainly need the people," Gill said. "That doesn't mean, however, that hotels are bringing everybody back. They're trying to permanently reduce staffing."

Gill claimed some big hotel chains have decided to eliminate daily cleaning of hotel rooms even though the union has a contract that specifies daily housekeeping.

"Hilton and some of the others have made public pronouncements to their investors that this is how they intend to increase the return for the investors," he said.

Thomas Baltimore, head of Park Hotels & Resorts which owns two Hilton locations in the state, talked about possible changes to their business model during a meeting for investors.

"We are also expecting housekeeping to be altered in a way that provides guests with added assurance that the guestroom is clean and sterilized. We could see a move away from daily housekeeping service and an increase in contactless check-in, for example, such as Hilton's Digital Key program," Baltimore said.

Some of Honolulu's smaller hotels have already resumed daily housekeeping or never stopped doing it, Gill said.

"The corporate bosses of our hotels—it's all mainland corporations at this point—are exploiting Hawai‘i mercilessly right now and have used the pandemic as an excuse to reduce services, and that's bad for Hawai‘i," he said.

Gill also told Hawai‘i Public Radio about the impacts for kitchen crews, valet drivers, airport concessions workers and more.

"Tourism needs to serve Hawai‘i's people and not just crowd us out and turn us into servants of tourism. So the notion that hotels will operate and reduce jobs to Hawai‘i is not just bad for union members, it's bad for Hawai‘i," Gill said.

UNITE HERE Local 5 is one of two unions that represent workers at hotels and airport concessions across the state.

A spokesperson for the Hawai‘i Transportation Department said businesses at the airport are open, though it's not clear if operating hours are limited and if they are all back with full staffing.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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