Honolulu Civil Beat: Failed Lawsuit Illustrates Plight of Non-Union Hotel Employees

Ian Pajer-Rogers |

From Honolulu Civil Beat

Graveyard shift janitors who clean the iconic Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki are supposed to be paid union wages even if they work for a hotel contractor and aren’t union members.

That’s guaranteed in a collective bargaining agreement between the Hilton and the hotel employees union, which has long sought to lessen the impact on workers when hotels economize by hiring contractors that can use non-union employees.

So when Jasmine Marbou, a single mother, found out in 2013 her pay of $13.59 per hour was far less than union employees doing basically the same work in the same hotel, she and several co-workers filed suit against the contractor they worked for.

But a federal judge ruled in favor of the defense and stuck the workers with the bill for their employer’s legal expenses.

Marbou and 34 other janitors, mostly immigrants from the Philippines, owe $2,779 apiece.

The judge said the union could challenge the pay disparity, but non-union workers could not.

Now Unite Here Local 5 has filed a grievance seeking to do just that. Its spokeswoman, Paula Rodelas, claims as many as 50 workers may have been underpaid by a total $1.5 million because they didn’t get the same raises as union members from 2008 to 2013.

“This is wage theft,” Rodelas said. “It’s not a question at all that these workers weren’t being paid the right amount. The workers aren’t asking for more than what they deserve, they’re just asking for their money back.”

The grievance is the latest development in the union’s decade-long struggle to enforce collective bargaining agreements governing contracting at Waikiki hotels, a conflict that underscores the vulnerability of workers who are the backbone of Hawaii’s tourism industry.

The employees worked for Hawaii Care and Cleaning, which didn’t reply to requests for comment but implied in court records that it’s not to blame because it didn’t receive money from Hilton for raises.

Rodelas said the union doesn’t care whether Hilton or the cleaning company ultimately pays the back wages, but holds Hilton responsible for upholding the collective bargaining agreement.

Hilton spokeswoman Cynthia Rankin declined to comment on the lawsuit and the grievance, writing in an email that the hotel does not discuss legal or personnel matters. She did say that the hotel complies fully with its union agreement.

“Any grievances in this area that are brought to our attention are handled as expeditiously as possible and in accordance with the agreement,” she wrote.

Read the full article from Honolulu Civil Beat.