Closing Down Kalakaua Avenue

Larry Price
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Wednesday - August 04, 2010
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A really strange thing happened on the way to Waikiki last week: Kalakaua Avenue was closed down. Not by a ruptured water main, severe traffic accident or pedestrian injury, but by Honolulu Police Department officers arresting about 84 Local 5 hotel workers and supporters who had gathered to protest against Hyatt Regency Waikiki.

Wait a minute.

Contract negotiations are supposed to be in progress. There wasn’t any talk of an impasse or impending strike. For all intents and purposes, Oahu’s tourism industry is on the mend with things looking better every month - it was almost impossible to get a room this past weekend.


So what’s with the protest against one hotel and creating a deliberate traffic nightmare? Our taxpayers and tourists don’t understand the purpose of that kind of action.

Union leaders said Hyatt’s owners were taking unfair advantage of tough times in their current contract negotiations. As the fearless leader of Local 5, Eric Gill, was arrested and carted away by the HPD, Hyatt’s manager said the workers got contracted raises during the recession and nothing further could be negotiated until both sides sit down at the bargaining table.

OK, that sounds like the socially intelligent thing to do. So how come the union protesters locked hands and sat down, blocking Kalakaua, instead of at the bargaining table?

Negotiations between management and union workers and their representatives are supposed to be conducted privately, not in public. At first glance it looks like these were adults acting badly on the outside and thinking like kids on the inside. Whenever you have to deal with people like this, you’ve got big problems.

Honolulu residents might as well face the facts head on and either demand their elected leaders quell the fears of union workers or advise people - tourists included - to stay out of Waikiki until both sides come to their senses. If they keep this up, Waikiki’s streets and parks will be only inhabited by the homeless population.

Most taxpayers probably blame the union for the problem. On closer examination, the record will show that hotel management also must take its share of the blame.

I’m not suggesting that what the union leaders did, both nationally and locally, is acceptable, but it’s very understandable and predictable. In this scenario, union leaders believe they are being bullied by hotel management. The acceptable way locally to deal with bullies is to get their attention. If you can’t do that, they won’t come to the table and talk. You need to shock their self-centeredness and make them feel your presence.

Said another way, they want to create a negative consequence that will outweigh any benefit they are deriving from their current behavior. The union has to play the game; it has to know how to get the management’s attention by figuring out what’s important to them. This can be done firmly and quietly to let them know what it will and won’t go along with.

What happens now? Some of our elected leaders need to mediate between both parties, because our tourism market cannot afford to allow Local 5 and Hyatt’s management to ignore the boundary that has been set by the union and its supporters. They have to do something constructive and not take sides in the process. Our community leaders have to make investors feel safe about investing in Hawaii and demand more cooperation by both sides.

Waikiki is the heart of our tourism industry. It should not be used as a battleground for negotiating wars or as a playground for bullies.

Congratulations to HPD for its textbook-perfect response to the protest. It’s hard to imagine how close we came to having a bloody altercation in Waikiki featuring Waikiki Beach, with Diamond Head in the background, all front and center on national and international news programs.

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