Hawaii hotel industry struggling to bring workers back

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — The American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) released a report on Thursday, Jan. 21, that projected Hawaii hotels would remain below 50% occupancy in 2021. The report also showed only half of the hotel workers employed in 2019 going back to work in 2021.

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United Here Local 5 is one of the Hawaii largest hotel unions and represents 11,500 hotel workers. Local 5 said, 8,000 of their union workers lost their jobs due to the pandemic and 1,000 have been hired back to work.

“We’re seeing reduced staffs across the board, even if you take into account the reduced occupancy,” explained Local 5 financial secretary Eric Gill.

Gill agreed with AHLA’s 2021 projection but said he is been fighting to get workers back to work.

“Our attempts to get hotels to commit to bringing the workers back that they laid off, have been rebuffed by the industry,” he said.

Bill 80 was proposed to Honolulu City Council in October, 2020, which would require hotels to recall a set number of employees calculated by occupancy and would require daily cleaning and sanitizing of every occupied guest room.

Bill 80 received opposition from many hotel and tourism operators who argued that daily room cleaning would put employees and guests at even more risk for contracting COVID-19 by creating closer interactions.

Gill still disagrees and argued that the recent AHLA report showed cleanliness and safety protocols are the second biggest factor when it comes to travelers deciding where they want to stay.

“We need daily room cleaning, we need that enhanced cleaning, we need all those things to make individuals feel comfortable,” he said. “And hotels need to invest in those things, and primarily what that means is bringing the people back to do the cleaning and to do those services.”

Housekeeping is the biggest department at hotels and Gill said, thousands remain unemployed.

Hotels have enhanced cleaning protocols in common areas and guest rooms upon check out but there are other departments where services have been cut — including food and beverage, valet, bell, and banquets. Other jobs are becoming contactless too.

“All these companies are doing it now to eliminate our front desk staff, or to reduce it, we’ll see how that turns out. These things are just starting,” he said of the electronic check-ins at several hotels.

Hotels have said they are bringing staff back based on occupancy.

Gill said, several non-union hotels have hired contractors to work or clean multiple hotel properties. Gill believes not getting people back to work will have a long-term impact on the economy.

“We want healthy hotels, but if they don’t bring people back to work and restore our tax base, then all we have is tourists straining our infrastructure without employment to justify our expenditure for that,” he said.

“We want to see people get jobs, so they have something to spend, so the economy can survive, and so those families can survive,” he continued.

He believes lawmakers should look into creating new jobs for the thousands of people who will not go back to work soon.

“Going into the next session, it appears that it’s mostly going to be a fight about money, and not a vision of how to recover our economy in a much more comprehensive way,” he said.

Local 5 members can click here for more resources.

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