Hotel union says more needs to be done to ensure staff safety

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Hotels are preparing to reopen on October 15 to visitors who participate in the pre-travel testing program.

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However, Unite HERE Local 5, which represents about 9,000 hotel workers says that hotels aren’t close to being prepared.

Hotel leaders have said that the health and safety of guests and staff is the most important factor when it comes to re-opening hotels to visitors.

“We want to make sure that the workers know their safety and security is first and foremost,” explained Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association President and CEO Mufi Hannemann.

Hotel leaders said that they are following CDC and Department of Health guidance to keep everyone safe, but Local 5 believes more needs to be done.

“Hotels need to spend the time and the effort to work through safety standards with workers, and they haven’t,” explained Unite HERE Local 5 financial secretary Eric Gill.

“The company upholds their guidelines, and somebody from some doctor signed off on them and they’ve had them checked with the Department of Health and the CDC and all that stuff, but nobody talked to any workers. And so that is a glaring, glaring gap in safety. If you haven’t involved your workers in workplace safety, you haven’t done the job of preparing for people to come into the hotel,” Gill continued.

Local 5 has done inspections of several hotels, union and non-union, and has published its findings on their website.

Gill said that they witnessed guests walking throughout hotels without face coverings and that there were no staff members asking them to wear one. He said that they also witnessed pool chairs close together, lack of signage and hand sanitizer stations.

“So, the key is not what they say they’re going to do, the key is what they actually do. And that’s why we’ve been obliged to do inspections to actually go see what they’re actually doing,” Gill said.

He said his biggest concern is the back of the house, where inspectors witnessed the laxest guidance.

“That’s where we need actual standard operating procedures with clear redlining as to how they’re being amended so that workers and managers can together, figure out how to do safety of the job in the back of the house,” Gill continued.

He said it’s where workers gather together. Some hotel cafeterias and elevators are small and don’t have enough space to cater to everyone on break. Work lockers are even close together too.

“I think the problem is that the hotel industry, in general, has wasted the last five months when we should have been working in detail with each hotel workers involved to ensure the back of house safety and ensure that workers understand the safety measures and support them and will monitor them naturally,” Gill said.

He said that workers need to understand the importance of the safety measures being put in place as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

“That takes some time, it takes training and the hotels have squandered that time by, in essence, refusing to engage with us,” Gill said. “Those things needed to be done, they still need to be done, October 15 is really quick to be able to make a serious dent in that particular piece of work, which involves detailed discussions involving a lot of workers and a lot of managers based on operating procedures that they haven’t shared yet.”

He said many workers are concerned about going back to work safely and not contracting the virus from visitors or co-workers.

“I’m feeling a little bit uneasy,” explained Aina Iglesias, who works the front desk at Hilton Alana Doubletree.

She said reopening in under a month seems rushed with the current restrictions that are happening on Oahu.

“I don’t think it’s right that they’re reopening tourism when they haven’t even figured out what to do with our schools and the local community here,” she said. “It just makes no sense to reopen it for them when we have so much to do in our end.”

She said that she would feel better if all of the employees were tested before their shift.

“It will feel safer for me to know that my co-workers don’t have the COVID-19,” she said.

It is not required for hotels in Hawaii to conduct employee testing.

Hotel leaders said it will be up to each individual hotel on whether to reopen on October 15 and how much staff they will bring back.

Local 5 said it’s also concerned that hotels will require their senior workers to come back first, which sometimes requires older or at-risk employees to return.

Local 5 also said that they want to work with hotel leaders to figure out health insurance for workers, which expired for many hotel workers this summer.

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