Despite a dour economy and a Hawaii tourism industry that is in its roughest patch ever, four dozen employees of the iconic Ilikai hotel won their jobs back on Friday when their labor union and the property’s new owner inked a surprise deal.
The Y-shaped, 30-story Ilikai was considered Hawaii’s first luxury high-rise when it opened in 1964 and it gained more prominence when it was featured in the opening sequence of the hit TV series Hawaii Five-0. The pact will lead to the hotel’s reopening sometime soon — though neither the local UNITE HERE union nor the Waikiki hotel’s owner, New York City-based iStar Financial Inc, are saying when.
But that didn’t matter to the Ilikai’s employees who jammed into a union hall on Friday to hug, eat cake and crack wide smiles less than 24 hours after they worked what they thought was their last day at the hotel.
The Ilikai these days is just one of a number of tall hotels in Waikiki, Oahu’s most popular tourist locale. More recently, the 800-room hotel fell onto hard times when then-owner Brian Anderson sold off pieces as time shares and eventually forced the property into foreclosure.
IStar acquired the Ilikai for US$51 million at a foreclosure auction in May.
The company spent the last several weeks looking for ways to continue hotel operations, but couldn’t make the numbers work.
Earlier this week, iStar announced the Ilikai would close on Thursday and its remaining 75 employees spent that day moving guests to other hotels and preparing to brave the state’s job-stingy economy.
But something happened between Thursday afternoon and Friday afternoon that led to an agreement, though neither union leaders nor iStar would specifically say what. The company’s statement said about 50 workers, many of whom have worked at the Ilikai for three decades, would retain their jobs.
Employees who won’t be retained will receive severance pay.
The new contract retains much of the old pact’s language on wages, hours and working conditions, said Eric Gill, the local union’s secretary-treasurer. IStar chose to work with the union rather than oppose it, he said.
“They would have lost a lot more money by fighting us than by working with us,” he said.
Dina Castro, an 11-year Ilikai veteran in the food and beverage department, was one of the workers told that her job wasn’t saved.
“But I’m happy for the housekeepers,” she said. “For those 50 people that got hired back.”