This opinion piece was written by Ala Moana Hotel worker, Gina Alcos. If you want to write for Local 5, contact us!
My first hotel job was at Princess Kaiulani Hotel. I was 20 years old, and I had never had a job that provided free meals, free uniforms, free medical and even a free pension plan! That was the first job I ever had that had benefits. I thought I was so lucky to get a Union job! I currently work at the Ala Moana Hotel. Today, I called one of my former co-workers to ask how things are at her end of Waikiki. Madonna told me, “not too good, I ran out of unemployment money in July .” Madonna has worked for PK/Moana for over 40 years. We both agreed that the mayor’s decision to shut down all hotel functions for four weeks didn’t make sense. The mayor’s mandates are keeping us from being able to work and making us go broke. I have worked in hotels for over 36 years. At this point in my life, I’m supposed to be in the countdown for retirement. I should have a solid 40 hours a week. I am finally high seniority at the job I’ve worked for 31 years. Instead, I am out of medical insurance, I haven’t contributed to my 401k in a year and a half and now I’m running out of unemployment insurance and being told there is no relief in sight. This means I’m adding on the years I have to work.
March 15,2020 was the last day of work for almost the entire world. For hotel banquet workers in Hawaii, it was the last day until infinity. Every time we are about to open and get a chance to make some money, the COVID numbers go up and we get shut down again. The rules seem lazy; it seems as if the state leaders do not want to go the extra mile to figure out what works in places other than restaurants. So the easy way is to just shut them down.
The state and city’s incompetence in handling the COVID situation has driven me and hundreds to thousands of other food and beverage workers into near poverty. The scarce amount of us who are able to work a few hours here and there, are returning to work making one third of what we made pre-pandemic. To make any profit in banquets you need at least 30 people per function. However, the mayor just canceled all the functions for September.
Why is this the law? If the government is going to continue to put workers like me out of work, what are they going to do to support us? Unemployment has been a failure since the start of the pandemic. These mandates have a direct impact on me and my fellow workers.
My co-worker had to file a new claim for unemployment this week. He was told he is only eligible to receive $70 a week now. As of September, the State of Hawaii is about to see thousands of workers out of unemployment money. The full amount when we were furloughed was $648 a week based on the previous 18 months of work. That dropped from $648 a week to $70. What are we supposed to do for the next 4 weeks on $70 a week? I called Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s office to ask, “will you be funding the additional weeks that you are shutting us down?” The sweet-sounding young lady who answered told me to call the unemployment office and ask them.
Everyone knows you can’t get through to the unemployment office, that has been our full-time job for the past year! I called the unemployment office and got the same recording that we have all gotten for the past year and a half. Being that I am persistent, after two days and over 30 tries, someone at UI answered the phone. I asked her what happens to us on September 5th when the extended unemployment runs out? Is the Governor going to extend our unemployment? She said NO. The only people now that can add money will be your employers and that’s only after you have returned to work for 16 to 18 weeks straight. We are lucky if we get to work six weeks straight. Shake my head! I’m feeling very frustrated at the lack of answers.
My future depends on our Honolulu mayor’s mandates. I’m hoping that the mayor will begin meeting with hotel workers and let us work with him, to find ways to safely hold functions the same way several large restaurants are. If the mayor can allow the Cheesecake Factory in Waikiki to remain open and feed up to 300 people indoors, in a smaller space than a lot of banquet ballrooms, why can’t we remain open and feed people with the same restrictions of 50% occupancy?