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Workers call for extended health coverage as the closure drags on

Rally draws more than 100 as hotels grapple with reopening timeline

Maui visitor industry workers wave signs along High Street in Wailuku Wednesday afternoon during an event organized by the Unite Here Local 5 union, which represents the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa and Ka‘anapali Beach Club. The workers called on state and county officials to make sure that when tourism is opened up, it is done safely for employees as well as guests. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Calling for hotels to disclose their reopening plans and for the state to subsidize medical coverage for out-of-work employees, more than 100 West Maui hotel workers rallied Wednesday afternoon at the County of Maui building in Wailuku.

Participants in the Unite Here Local 5 union sign-waving event donned red shirts and carried signs about safe reopening and worker benefits. They also presented to the county a petition with more than 3,500 signatures from hospitality workers statewide asking hotel employers to ensure continued medical coverage for laid-off workers.

“We cannot just have lawmakers decide when to open Hawaii for tourism. . . . It has to be safe, we need to have transparency in dealing with all of this,” Celia Cabal-Arcilla, Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa telephone operator, said during a news conference.

The workers from the Sheraton and the Ka’anapali Beach Club are represented by Oahu-based union Local 5, a Unite Here affiliate that planned demonstrations statewide Wednesday. Both hotels are temporarily closed due to COVID-19 and their reopening dates have yet to be announced. Neither responded to requests for comment Wednesday.

Meanwhile, hotels that were gearing up to reopen Aug. 1 with the state’s pretravel testing program are facing a longer delay after Gov. David Ige announced Monday that the plan will be postponed at least a month.

Hotel workers with the Unite Here Local 5 union flash shakas at passing cars during the rally. Local 5 Key Leader Erin Kelley said the union has asked industry officials to provide safety protocols in writing before they return to work.

Still, some hotel workers are pushing for more communication from employers on safe reopening plans. Other workers represented by a different union said that hotels can’t have a plan in place until the state determines when it will reopen tourism.

Eric Gill, Unite Here Local 5 financial secretary-treasurer, said that their hotel leaders are not working with the union on COVID-19 plans.

“One of our demands has been for our hotel employers to disclose their reopening plans — in particular, the safety of guests and workers in detail — so we can work with the employer through it,” he said in a statement. “But they are wasting time by not communicating with us. Plans that involve the lives and health of our people need some time to work through.”

Cabal-Arcilla said workers are looking for the state to subsidize medical coverage for those who have lost benefits. At the Sheraton, some furloughed workers have coverage through Sept. 30, but there is no certainty after that. Others, especially nonunion hotel workers, lost health care coverage last month.

“We would like employers to continue to contribute to our medical,” she said.

Another union representing workers at Maui hotels, ILWU Local 142, said it is working on a partnership with hotels to address medical benefits. The union represents workers from Grand Wailea Resort & Spa, Andaz Maui at Wailea, Hotel Wailea, Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa, Kaanapali Alii, Kaanapali Beach Hotel, Lahaina Shores Beach Resort, Maui Beach Hotel, Montage Kapalua Bay, Napili Shores Resort, Royal Lahaina Resort, The Westin Maui Resort & Spa and the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua.

The union’s main focus is providing health care for laid-off employees, as opposed to negotiating reopening plans, especially considering hotels do not yet have guidelines from the state on its pretravel testing program, said Donna Domingo, ILWU Local 142 president.

“The hotels we work with, they’re not in any shape or form right now to have reopening plans due to the (state’s) quarantine, testing and contact tracing,” she said. “Until that’s resolved or the state has a solid plan, that is when they are looking at reopening.”

Domingo added that the hotels where her union represents workers have been proactive in finding measures to keep guests and workers safe, such as social distancing, mask-wearing, employee training and ensuring health care remains intact.

“Our situation is very, very different because of collective bargaining agreement and our relationship with the hotels, which I see as a partnership as being able to address this issue,” she said.

Many hotels were gearing up to reopen Aug. 1 with the state’s announcement of a pretravel testing plan that would allow travelers with a negative COVID-19 test to bypass the 14-day mandatory quarantine.

Due to rising cases and a lack of tests, Ige delayed the program launch date to Sept. 1, another blow for the hard-hit hotel industry that has been mostly shuttered since March.

“All of you have made enormous sacrifices and our economy has suffered,” Ige said during the announcement. “This will make our economic recovery more challenging. But as I have always said, your health and safety comes first.”

A list of hotels and motels that are currently open is available at mauicounty.gov.

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com. Matthew Thayer contributed to this report.

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