Sheraton Maui workers go back to work today

The Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa is seen from the beach Wednesday afternoon. Employees who went on strike for 51 days were set to go back to work today after the hotel and union reached a tentative agreement Tuesday. The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

Workers at the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa in Kaanapali will be returning to their jobs today after going on strike Oct. 8, according to a union official.

Nearly all of the 2,700 workers at five Hawaii hotels, including 325 at the Sheraton Maui, on Tuesday approved the new four-year contract that averaged out to about a $6.13 per hour pay hike for the workers represented by UNITE HERE Local 5.

There were some scheduling kinks to work out after the contract was approved, said Cade Watanabe, political/community organizer for the union, on Wednesday.

“We are happy to work with Kyo-ya,” the owner of the hotels, to get the hotels back up and running, he said.

The entrance to the Sheraton, once lined with red-shirted workers chanting slogans to the beat of several drums, was quiet and empty Wednesday afternoon. The patches of grass where the workers had laid out blankets and chairs was roped off.

The poolside bar was bustling and the hotel was holding its usual nightly activities, including live music and the cliff dive off Black Rock.

Workers approached by The Maui News said they were not allowed to speak on the strike.

Watanabe said that the Sheraton had hired workers during the strike and brought in managers from other Marriott International properties (Marriott manages the five Kyo-ya hotels). He said that Local 5 had been picketing the nearby Westin Maui Resort & Spa because the resort was “aligning” with the Sheraton and was sending over managers.

Watanabe was not sure what is going to happen to those workers hired during the strike.

Guests said that they weren’t really impacted by the strike and hadn’t seen any changes since the hotel had reached a tentative agreement with the union.

Daniel and Diana Cervantes of San Diego said the strike didn’t really bother them. They knew about it beforehand and said they were willing to make their own beds since the Sheraton was waiving the resort fee.

However, they were surprised to see that hotel staff came to clean the rooms anyway. With the strike over, the couple said they thought they’d seen more employees at the hotel Wednesday than before.

A pair of visitors from another hotel had been near the Sheraton on Tuesday and said the workers no longer sounded like they were on strike. Instead, they were “hooting and hollering” with excitement, likely over the news of the agreement.

Three workers who were asked to leave the hotel grounds Oct. 12 while passing out leaflets about the strike to guests and banned from the grounds for a year will be among those returning to work, said Watanabe. They were issued trespassing notices and one of the workers was handcuffed by police.

The union filed an unfair labor practice charge against the hotel. The hotel will be dropping its complaint against the workers, Watanabe said.

The contract approved by workers for the first year includes a $1.50 per hour hike, plus 20 cents for medical; 13 cents for pension and 10 cents for the children/elder care fund, an official familiar with the contract said. Tipped workers will receive a 75 cents an hour raise and bellmen, $1.12 an hour.

The raises in the subsequent years are $1 an hour; $1.76 an hour and $1.44 an hour.

An average housekeeper currently earns $22.14 an hour. The contract is retroactive to July, which means workers will receive a bonus check for work from July to October.

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

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