Power Struggle At The Hilton

Larry Price
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Wednesday - November 24, 2010
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Hundreds of Local 5 members who work at Hilton Hawaiian Village and other Waikiki hotels marched through the Hilton’s main lobby last week. The 1,500 union hotel workers’ contract expired five months ago, and union leaders said they wanted to get the attention of Hilton management.

They were joined by members of the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, which just happened to be holding its annual convention at the hotel. After the march through the lobby, the protesters paced the sidewalk on Kalia Road fronting the resort chanting union slogans and carrying signs.

There has been no settlement, so it’s obvious union members’ marching and shouting didn’t get the attention they wanted from management.

Maybe we can help with a little clarification for the public.

To begin with, negotiations are not supposed to be a search-and-destroy mission. One thing is for sure, neither side wants to treat any one negotiation as the last opportunity to get a fair deal.

The reason is you have to look at the whole picture and at the whole relationship, especially at the long-term interests, rather than obsessing over a current situation.

That’s most important, because the hotel industry has been struggling with the economic downturn, although there are signs of a creeping recovery.

For the public, especially the unemployed segment, anyone with a job in these troubled economic times should be grateful and hope for the best.

Some may want to know which side is right. Most of the rights being disputed in this case are covered by law. They are formalized in contracts signed between the parties involved. Other rights they are concerned with are socially acceptable standards of behavior, such as reciprocity, precedent, equality and seniority.

The bottom line here is that rights are rarely clear because they often differ and are sometimes contradictory. The problem is reaching agreement on rights, where the outcome will determine who gets what, is exceedingly difficult and is frequently settled by a third party.

Another way to settle a dispute is to determine who is more powerful. The definition of power in negotiating is the ability to coerce someone to do something he or she would not otherwise do. Exercising power typically means imposing costs on the other side or threatening to do so. This exercise of power takes two basic forms: acts of aggression, such as sabotage, or withholding benefits that derive from the relationship.

Let’s face it, management can handle the housekeeping chores, but it’s not a pretty sight.

It’s interesting to note that determining who has the most power is, more often than not, a matter of perception. What we have here is nothing new, it is as old as science of labor relations. Each side’s perception of the other’s power may fail to take into account the other side’s perception of itself.

Sadly, both sides are appear to be willing to invest greater resources in the contest than expected out of fear that a change in the perceived distribution of power will somehow affect the outcome of future disputes.

Don’t be surprised if the governor-elect is summoned as a third party to generate a settlement. He might as well start working on his “halo” as soon as possible.

In negotiations, timing is everything.

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