Hotel workers rally for safe reopening, health care
Properties making changes that include more cleanings, shift to keyless entry
KAANAPALI — About 200 union members and supporters in 70 cars and trucks rode through Lahaina and Kaanapali on Saturday to call on Hawaii legislators and tourism industry officials to reopen the state to visitors in a safe manner.
“Safest place to travel should be the safest place for workers too” read a sign posted on the window of one of the vehicles driven in Saturday morning’s car caravan organized by the Unite Here Local 5 hotel workers union.
Participants also expressed concerns about health care coverage, adequate testing for COVID-19 and the availability of personal protective equipment.
“Today we’re here because we feel Hawaii has a great opportunity to reopen the tourism industry safely,” said Unite Here Local 5 Key Leader Erin Kelley. “Global travelers are looking to Hawaii as one of the safest places to travel, and we feel Hawaii should not waste this opportunity by not opening safely.”
Kelley, who works in Kaanapali as a bartender at the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa, said testing for COVID-19 must be part of the reopening strategy.
“We’ve been working with public health experts and officials to make sure not only the guests are safe, but our workers are not put at risk. We want to make sure hotels are testing guests and workers. That is the only way we on Maui will be safe.”
Union shop steward Evie Chargualaf, who works at the Sheraton’s front desk, echoed many of her fellow members when she said maintaining health care coverage is vitally important.
“We’re here to raise awareness of workers’ lives,” Chargualaf said. “Reopen the state the right way. One of our main goals is we continue our workers’ health coverage.”
Sheraton housekeeping staffer and mother of three, Marilyn Fernandez, agreed.
“Health care is very important for my kids,” Fernandez said. “Safety is very important to me.”
The caravan started at Lahaina Gateway and cruised the length of Kaanapali Parkway before ending at Lahaina Cannery Mall.
Other signs Saturday included: “Up up with safety, down down with COVID-19!” “Safe hotels = safe Hawaii, Safe airports = Safe Hawaii,” “Maui should be aware: we need PPE, testing and health care,” “HI legislators do your job, Hawaii needs testing” and “Make Hawaii safe again.”
Kelley said many travel industry workers have lost their health care coverage due to the economic slowdown and hotel shutdowns caused by the global coronavirus pandemic.
“Our priority number one is nobody losing their health care coverage,” Kelley said. “Losing health care coverage is a danger to us all, our families and our community. The hotel industry should bring everybody back instead of using the pandemic to cut hours. It not only benefits the people we are serving, but it benefits the workforce as well. We’re demanding all classifications of workers are brought back.”
Union member Noah Berkey, who works at the Sheraton’s front desk, urged officials to listen to the union’s concerns.
“We just want to be part of the conversation and make sure they open up right,” Berkey said. “Testing is very important. We can’t open the island if they are not testing them to come in.”
The union is scheduled to continue highlighting the issue with a sign-waving event from 3 to 4 p.m. today in Kahului near the intersection of Kaahumanu Avenue and Puunene Avenue.
On Sunday, Rod Antone, executive director of the Maui Hotel and Lodging Association, said that hotels are preparing for reopening by retraining employees, purchasing protective equipment and cleaning supplies, offering hand sanitizer and complimentary disinfecting wipes for guests, increasing cleaning of public spaces and updating seating arrangements to comply with social distancing rules. They’re also having to redesign operations, such as the flow of arriving and departing guests.
“Some have even gone so far as to get rid of key cards, which need to be disinfected over and over again,” Antone said. “They’re going to do keyless entry at the guest rooms, which in some cases you just use your own phone.”
Antone said that some hotels that still have workers on site are doing temperature checks daily.
Last week, Gov. David Ige extended the mandatory 14-day quarantine for out-of-state travelers to July 31. Whether that will delay reopening plans depends on the hotel.
“Each property is different, and they all have different challenges and concerns they’ve got to deal with,” Antone said. “I’ve heard different months for opening, anywhere from August to October.”
The lodging association includes about 50 members, and Antone said he wasn’t sure exactly how many are continuing to pay for employees’ health insurance during the pandemic. He knows of many that are, “some to the tune of half a million dollars a month.”
“I haven’t heard an end date (for health coverage), but obviously it can’t last forever, to just keep paying and paying without having any income,” Antone said. “I know everybody thinks, ‘but the hotels get deep pockets,’ except every single hotel in every state and every city is going through the same thing. We want everybody to get back to work. We want it to be done safely.”
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