Sheraton worker is handcuffed, banned for year

Trespassing complaint filed as strike moves into second week

A striking employee was put in handcuffs and banned from hotel grounds for one year after passing out leaflets to guests informing them of the strike at the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa, according to the union that represents the workers.

Sheraton server Bernie Sanchez was handcuffed but not arrested Friday after she and two other employees began handing out flyers and were asked by hotel security to leave the grounds.

“We have a legal right to be on the hotel property to inform guests about why we are on strike and how this can impact them,” Sanchez said in a statement Monday. “Guests have been very understanding of our message that one job should be enough to live in Hawaii. I am very disappointed that Kyo-ya banned us when they claim to be so welcoming to workers.”

More than 325 workers have been on strike at the Sheraton Maui since Oct. 8, among the 2,700 employees with UNITE HERE Local 5 who have been picketing at five Hawaii hotels operated by Marriott and owned by Kyo-ya Hotels and Resorts.

Shortly after 5 p.m. Friday, Sanchez and two other employees went up to the hotel’s porte cochere, the area near the entrance of the hotel where cars come to valet, to pass out flyers to guests “just to inform them of why we’re on strike and what we’re fighting for,” Sanchez told The Maui News on Monday. Hotel management and security asked the workers to leave.

“We expressed that we were still employees of the Sheraton and had every right to be there and exercise our First Amendment rights,” Sanchez said.

Hotel staff then called Maui police, who arrived and told workers that they were on private property and that the hotel wanted to issue a trespassing report on them, Sanchez said. The workers, who had been told by the union that they didn’t have to give out any personal information, wanted to leave, but Sanchez said police detained her so the hotel could make a trespassing report.

“I didn’t think it would come to that,” Sanchez said of being handcuffed. She added that she may have been the only worker detained “because I was the only one trying to leave. . . . After they (her coworkers) saw the handcuffs come out, they didn’t want to move at all.”

No one was arrested and no charges were filed, but the workers were issued notices barring them from the property for a year.

“We don’t know why the employer would want to ban its employees for a year,” said Paola Rodelas, spokesperson for UNITE HERE Local 5. “It’s basically like firing them since the hotel is prohibiting them from coming on property.”

Kyo-ya could not be reached for comment Monday evening, and Maui police spokesman Lt. Gregg Okamoto did not have additional information as of Monday evening.

Local 5 organizer Cade Watanabe said that the union may pursue an unfair labor practice charge against the hotel. He said he wasn’t sure of the details or when, but that it was “likely to happen very soon.”

“I think the irony of it all has to do with the fact that Kyo-ya is playing this game of ‘how we love our workers and we want them back,’ and here we have the same employer now attempting to bar their own employees from accessing the property that they work at,” Watanabe said.

Kyo-ya had released a statement Friday saying that “although Local 5 called for our employees to walk off their jobs, we value them and are ready to welcome them back.”

Watanabe said that “workers have a right to be on their own property to be able to exercise their free speech rights,” even during a strike, and that the activity is protected by federal labor laws as well.

As for the ban on the three workers, Watanabe said the question now is “whether or not the police are going to enforce it.” He said the union is discussing the issue with Maui County attorneys.

“We’re pretty clear on what our rights are,” Watanabe said. “We’ve done it many times in the past.”

Watanabe added that as he and the three workers walked down the entrance after the incident on Friday, “everyone on the line erupted in a big cheer and chanting.”

Sanchez, who’s worked for the Sheraton for 13 years, said “now that everyone is getting more experienced and educated on all the rights and procedures they can do, they definitely are more brave. They don’t feel intimidated by the employer.”

Since the strike began, services have been scaled back at the Sheraton Maui and the four hotels on Oahu where workers are on strike. Signs posted around the Sheraton Maui last week informed guests that housekeeping services would be limited until further notice, although additional amenities and towels were available. While some food and drink services were available, including a continental breakfast at the ROCKsalt restaurant, other resort food and beverage outlets and in-room dining were closed.

In a statement Friday, Kyo-ya said that “we understand that the demonstrations are causing some disruption.”

“We apologize for the inconvenience, and we appreciate the patience and understanding of our neighbors, the community and our guests,” Kyo-ya said.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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