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Hotel workers rally Saturday on west side for safe reopening

About 200 hotel union workers and supporters hold drive-thru rally in Kaanapali for a safe reopening and health care. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Safest place to travel should be the safest place for workers too” read a sign posted on the window of one the vehicles driven in Saturday morning’s car caravan organized by the Unite Here Local 5 hotel workers union.

About 200 union members and supporters in 70 cars and trucks rode through Lahaina and Kaanapali to call on Hawaii legislators and tourism industry officials to reopen the state to visitors in a safe manner. They 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.”

Erin Kelley, Local 5 Key Leader, tells the car caravan Saturday in Kaanapali that "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." The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Union shop steward Evie Charguelaf, 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,” Charguelaf 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.

Unite Now Local 5 hotel workers union stage rally for safe reopening of tourism industry Saturday. the Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

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.”

Unite Here Local 5’s car caravan winds through Kaanapali on Saturday morning. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The union is scheduled to continue highlighting the issue with a sign-waving event from 3 to 4 p.m. Monday in Kahului near the intersection of Kaahumanu Avenue and Puunene Avenue.

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