Sheraton Maui workers strike

They have issues with pay, outsourcing; guests face reduced services as a result

Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa workers Barry Lagbas (from left), Braden Hamai, Ivan Basques, Jackie Puno and Imelda Casio march outside the hotel Monday morning as part of a strike with hotel operator Marriott. More than 325 Sheraton workers went on strike starting at 5 a.m. Monday, according to UNITE HERE Local 5, the union that represents the workers. The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photos

KAANAPALI — More than 325 workers went on strike at the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa early Monday morning, joining thousands of workers statewide who are calling for higher wages from hotel operator Marriott.

“Basically, I want to stay on Maui,” said Virgil Seatriz Jr., a Sheraton bell clerk who was born and raised in Lahaina. “One job should be enough to provide. I don’t have a family yet, but . . . I’m planning for the future of not only myself but for future generations.”

More than 2,700 hotel workers went on strike at five Hawaii hotels operated by Marriott and owned by Kyo-ya. They are Sheraton Maui and Sheraton Waikiki, The Royal Hawaiian, Westin Moana Surfrider and Sheraton Princess Kaiulani on Oahu, according to UNITE HERE Local 5, the union that represents the workers.

Local 5 organizer Lisa Grandinetti said workers began walking out of the Sheraton Maui at 5 a.m. Monday. About 100 workers were marching outside the hotel along Kaanapali Parkway at around 11 a.m. Grandinetti said there has been “minor movement” on contract negotiations since Sheraton workers rallied on Kaanapali Beach on Labor Day.

The workers’ contract expired June 30; they voted to strike on Sept. 10.

Elizabeth Bugarin, who’s worked in housekeeping for 13 years, leads out the chants during the hotel worker strike at the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa on Monday morning.  

In addition to higher wages, Grandinetti said workers also are concerned about job security, including issues with automation and subcontracting. Paola Rodelas, communications and community organizer for Local 5, explained last month that some hotels, including the Sheraton, hire outside companies for jobs, such as cleaning or bringing in prepackaged foods. It saves the hotels money but takes away housekeeping and food-prep jobs, Rodelas said.

Elpidia Estrada, who’s been a housekeeper at the Sheraton Maui for nearly 14 years, said subcontracting has “a big impact.”

“Sometimes my coworkers, sometimes they are complaining, ‘How come? We can do the job,’ “ Estrada said. ” ‘How come they give it to the PWC (People Who Clean)? How come they are not giving to us?’ Because some coworkers are on call, so instead of calling them, they subcontract the outsiders.”

Over the course of an eight-hour shift, Estrada cleans 15 hotel rooms, most with two beds and a sofa bed. She said some days she doesn’t even have time for a lunch break.

Estrada juggled her housekeeping position with a job at the ABC store in Honokowai and Whaler’s Village for six years. She quit in 2012 to take care of her ailing mother and “because I have no time for my kids.” As the sole breadwinner for her three children, ages 12, 13 and 15, Estrada does some part-time work at other hotels to help make ends meet.

Workers march back and forth in front of the hotel’s parking lot under the rallying cry “one job should be enough”

Donna Esteban, meanwhile, works five days a week as a poolside cocktail server and spends her days off working as a hairdresser. Esteban said she is saving up money to go back to school and get a degree in accounting. Her mother was a housekeeper at the Sheraton Maui for more than 25 years, which is why Esteban is concerned about longer pension plans, better benefits and higher wages.

“I’m one of those lucky ones that don’t have a mortgage, that don’t have children,” she said. “But I can totally feel for what these people are feeling, because I have coworkers (that are) like, ‘So what’s going to happen? What can we do to support us if we go on strike?’ “

Seatriz, a 12-year Sheraton Maui veteran, said that another issue for workers is staffing. He said that sometimes the hotel doesn’t schedule enough workers, leaving him to cover tasks that go beyond his typical duties.

Seatriz lives in the second story of his parents’ home and said his dad also depends on his paycheck. He’d like to buy his own home someday but could not afford one on his current salary.

“You could have five jobs and not even pay mortgage,” he said. “I hate to say it, but it seems like they weeding out the locals. How are we supposed to show aloha when they’re not?”

Despite the heat and the early-morning start, workers were in good spirits on the first day of the strike, saying they hoped their show of unity would convince hotel management at the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa to listen to them.

On Monday, Kyo-ya Hotels & Resorts sent out a statement saying that the company had “implemented contingency plans” to ensure the five hotels “continue to offer our guests an enjoyable experience during their stay in Hawaii.”

“There have been some adjustments to staffing levels and services being offered at our properties,” the company said. “We have notified our guests and business partners of the situation and are providing them with ongoing updates.”

At the Sheraton Maui, a sign posted by the elevators informed guests of the strike and of changes to services. Housekeeping was limited until further notice, although additional amenities and towels were available.

The ROCKsalt restaurant offered an enhanced continental breakfast in the morning, and food and drink services also were available in the lounge by the restaurant. However, all other resort food and beverage outlets and in-room dining were closed.

Beach, pool and concierge services continued normal operations.

Guests at the hotel said they noticed the differences. Costa Papadakis of Sydney, Australia, said he and some friends had been hoping to get a drink by the pool but were directed instead to the bar inside. They waited about 45 minutes to get two pina coladas and two cans of beer.

“There’s one person working there, with one person taking orders, and they only had limited drinks,” Papadakis said. “I know it sounds like first world problems.”

Papadakis said their rooms also hadn’t been cleaned, and he planned to ask to “have the resort fee refunded, at least partially,” at the end of their stay.

“That’s something I’d expect back home where we come from — Australia — if a service is not provided as promised,” he said, adding that these “road bumps” wouldn’t put a damper on their Maui vacation.

Mike Godfrey of Prince George in British Columbia, Canada, said that he was willing to put up with a few inconveniences in support of the workers.

“The restaurant wasn’t as good as it normally is,” he said. “We’ve got to get our own towels and stuff like that. . . . It’s disappointing, but I support the strikers 100 percent.”

UNITE HERE said 7,700 Marriott workers at 23 hotels have gone on strike in eight U.S. cities. Strikes began last week in Boston; San Francisco; San Jose, Calif.; Oakland, Calif.; San Diego; and Detroit. The union also has a website, MarriottTravelAlert.org, which offers updates for Marriott hotel customers who need to know whether labor disputes could affect their travel plans.

UNITE HERE is an international union that represents 270,000 workers throughout the U.S. and Canada. UNITE HERE Local 5 is an affiliate that represents about 11,000 workers in Hawaii’s hospitality, health care and food service industries.

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