KAILUA-KONA — Employees at Royal Kona Resort aren’t on strike — yet.
A few dozen staff members clad in red and waving picket signs rallied on Kahakai Road fronting the hotel Wednesday afternoon. The purpose of the demonstration was to bring awareness to their fight and to the need for quality jobs across Hawaii Island.
A vote was held March 19 in which 95 percent of union employees at Royal Kona Resort voted to authorize a strike. While such action isn’t pending, it hasn’t been ruled out.
“There might be a strike,” said Maggie Lawson, a member of the hotel’s housekeeping department for 27 years. “It’s hard for us to say. It all depends on what kind of counter proposal (management) offers us.”
Negotiations between Royal Kona Resort, owned by California-based Hawaiian Hotels and Resorts, and Local 5, the union representation for nearly 200 Royal Kona Resort employees and roughly 11,000 other hospitality, health care and food service workers throughout Hawaii, have been underway for more than a year.
At the heart of the dispute are wage rates and benefits, said Paola Rodelas, communication specialist for Local 5. Because the previous contract has expired, resort employees are ineligible for any wage or benefit hikes until a new contract is ratified.
“When the hotel was struggling, workers agreed to only a small increases to pay and benefits, neither of which met the Local 5 standard,” Lawson explained.
It’s a decision Larson said they’ve been paying for ever since.
“Now, room occupancy levels are high and the hotel is doing very well, but management continues to keep us behind,” she said.
Local 5 also represents workers at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott and is pushing for a contract that will catch Royal Kona Resort employees up to the same level of compensation over a three-year period, Rodelas said.
Housekeepers at Waikoloa earn $17.76 per hour, while the same job at Royal Kona Resort pays $15.35. The same ownership group runs the Royal Lahaina on Maui, where housekeepers are paid $18.27 hourly and clean 14-15 rooms daily, where as housekeepers at the Royal Kona Resort clean 17 per day, Rodelas said.
Royal Kona Resort ownership didn’t field questions on the rally but offered a statement through general manager Jay Rubenstein.
“We are disappointed that Local 5’s leadership has decided to hold a rally and escalate matters rather than focus on our ongoing negotiations,” the statement read. “The disruption is harmful to our team of caring employees and the guests we serve. We have presented the union with a strong proposal and look forward to bargaining in good faith at our negotiations in the upcoming weeks.”
No employee who participated in the rally skipped work to do so, Lawson said.