Hotel workers rally on Kaanapali Beach for higher wages, contract

Union members working to get a contract: About 200 marched in the Labor Day rally Monday

Union workers from the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa call for higher wages and a contract on Kaanapali Beach on Monday afternoon. About 200 people attended the Labor Day rally, which was organized by UNITE HERE Local 5 Hawaii. Seven Marriott-operated hotels across Hawaii, including the Sheraton Maui, have been embroiled in contract negotiations with the union since June. • The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

KAANAPALI — Under the rallying cry of “one job should be enough,” hotel union workers called for higher wages and a contract Monday afternoon on the beach fronting the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa.

About 200 people, most of them Sheraton workers and members of the UNITE HERE Local 5 Hawaii union, marched in the Labor Day rally, which started at the entrance to the Sheraton before moving to Kaanapali Beach.

“We’ve made them millionaires,” 40-year Sheraton veteran Evelyn “Evie” Chargualaf said through a megaphone. “Where is our share?”

Since June, Hawaii hotel workers have been in contract negotiations with seven Marriott-operated hotels: Sheraton Maui, Waikiki Beach Marriott, Sheraton Waikiki, The Royal Hawaiian, Westin Moana Surfrider, Sheraton Princess Kaiulani and Sheraton Kauai. Local 5 represents about 335 workers at the Sheraton Maui, said Paola Rodelas, communications and community organizer for Local 5. Their contract expired June 30, and Rodelas said the union is “not happy with how the negotiations have been going.”

“It goes beyond the pay,” she said. “We’ve also put negotiations on the table that have to do with job security and workload. . . . Good benefit and wage increases won’t matter if jobs get lost to things like subcontracting and automation.”

Workers march back and forth across the street in front of the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa. Workers are concerned about higher pay, outside contractors and automation. • The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

Rodelas said the union is asking for pay raises but couldn’t disclose the amount. The union is also asking the hotel to do away with subcontracting. Rodelas said some hotels, including the Sheraton, hire outside cleaning companies, taking away housekeeping jobs. Other hotels, including some in Waikiki, hire companies to bring in prepackaged cut-and-prepared foods, taking away jobs from food-prep workers.

“It comes down to their bottom line,” Rodelas said. “It saves them money if they hire a subcontracting cleaning company where workers are paid minimum wage with no benefits, versus having to pay union housekeepers.”

Automation is also a major issue in the industry, Rodelas said.

“Accommodations and service sector work is the most likely industry to be automated in the country,” she said. “We know this is a growing problem. We’re already seeing it in the front desk, for example. We have seen Marriott in particular rolling out mobile check-in.”

Rodelas said union members are not against new technology, but said the union wants to “get ahead of the issue” and make sure workers are taken care of as hotels automate more services.

Evelyn “Evie” Chargualaf, a 40-year veteran of the Sheraton, speaks to the crowd of workers about the struggles her Filipino immigrant parents faced coming to Maui. “Something is wrong with the economy now, because what we make does not match the cost of living,” she said. • The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

Erin Kelley, who’s been a bartender at the Sheraton for seven years, suggested that the hotel offer training in other departments for workers being replaced by new technology. She said waiting on a new contract has made her feel disrespected and nervous about her job.

“We’re held to a really high standard, and we just want to hold Marriott to a high standard also and negotiate fairly,” Kelley said.

Kelley, who lives in Honokowai, said she used to work multiple jobs in coffee shops, housekeeping and babysitting to make ends meet. Now, she just works as a bartender, but she said if she and her husband had kids, she’d likely have to find another source of income. Many of her co-workers hold down multiple jobs.

“Every day we’re welcoming guests from all over the world,” Kelley said. “And we’re finding it harder and harder to afford the cost of living here and being able to support our families and being able to make memories of our own at home.”

Marilyn Fernandez is one of those employees who has to juggle jobs. She’s been a housekeeper at the Sheraton for 10 years and is a mother to three kids, ages 8, 9 and 10. Until August 2017, she split her days between the Sheraton from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and the Hyatt Regency from 4:30 to 10:30 p.m. before making the 45-minute drive back to Central Maui.

Workers capture the attention of passing tour buses and visitor cars in front of the Sheraton. • The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

“It’s very hard for me because I have to come home, they sleeping already, and I cannot even help them with their homework,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez said her kids’ grades went down until she quit her job at the Hyatt. Now she’s able to spend more time with them, and their grades have improved. However, on her off days she still has to drive a taxi at the Kahului Airport. Her boyfriend also works at the Marriott Ocean Club. Fernandez said she can see the disappointment in her kids’ faces when she tells them she has to be at work.

“But I told them, ‘Why, you want to be a homeless if mommy not working?’ And they said, ‘OK, mom.’ It just really breaks my heart,” Fernandez said.

The Sheraton did not respond to specific questions Monday, but released a statement saying that the Sheraton and its owners, Kyo-ya Hotels & Resorts, “have had longstanding and productive relationships with UNITE HERE Local 5.”

“Kyo-ya has always negotiated our collective bargaining agreements in good faith and will continue to do so,” said Katelyn Mayer, director of public relations for the Sheraton Maui. “While the negotiation process is moving forward, UNITE HERE and some of its members are engaging in rallies today to express their views on important issues. Kyo-ya is a company that values the contributions of all our associates, and we respect the right of the people to voice their opinions.”

Protests at Marriott properties also took place in seven cities around the country, including San Francisco, where 75 workers were arrested after blocking off a street around Union Square. The demonstration drew about 900 workers to the Marriott’s Westin St. Francis hotel.

On Maui, Local 5 also represents workers at the Kaanapali Beach Club and Kaiser Permanente, as well HMS Host, which provides food and beverage services at the Kahului Airport and Gate Gourmet, which offers in-flight catering for airlines.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at