hawaii gas workers’ strike and concerns
70,000 customers are served by Hawaii Gas, the state’s only franchised gas utility. After more than 200 unionized Hawaii Gas employees went on strike early Thursday, large gas users like hotels and restaurants are preparing for service disruptions.
After weeks of negotiations, Hawaii Teamsters and Allied Workers, Local 996, rejected the utility’s Tuesday “last, best, and final offer” and walked off the job at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday in seven locations across Hawaii, including three on Oahu.
Visitor and restaurant industry leaders and other business customers are monitoring the situation because the strike could disrupt gas service and limit their operations.
With 70,000 customers, Hawaii Gas is the state’s only franchised gas utility and largest propane distributor. It serves homes and businesses.
Lynette Eastman, general manager of Waikiki’s Surfjack Hotel &Swim Club, said petrol shortages could affect tourism and community safety.
Gas is crucial to the hospitality industry. Gas-powered hotel water heaters exist. Our gas kitchens. She called it bad. The uncertainty, the people affected, the jobs affected, and if gas service and access are affected would be of concern to me.
“Labor shortages are real,” she said. “How will they fill in with trained people? Gas is dangerous.”
According to Kevin Yim, Zippy’s restaurants also use petrol. Gas powers our flat-top grill, our fryers, and things that make steam to heat things’, Yim said. As in many restaurants, it powers the kitchen.
Hawaii Gas supplies cooking gas to all 20 Oahu Zippy locations. The restaurants were operational Thursday afternoon.
Yim says Zippy’s is developing a gas outage plan. “We store propane in large tanks at each facility,” Yim said. “If service is interrupted, we would need to find a new way to fill those tanks with propane. We’re unsure. We are considering a contingency plan.”
The basic gas service will continue to be provided by Hawaii Gas, executives said.
The utility reported 217 unionized workers out of 359. 142 nonunion workers will maintain operations during a strike. Hawaii Gas said the deployed employees are already employed. Many managers.
However, company officials warned of service disruptions.
We will maintain basic gas service to all utility and non-utility customers statewide, however, certain services may be temporarily curtailed while we continue negotiating with our labor union’, Hawaii Gas said.
New appliance installations, nonemergency appliance repairs and adjustments, energy-efficient appliance audits, and in-person bill payments at Hawaii Gas offices are those services.
Hawaii Teamsters leaders say the Hawaii Gas plant at Campbell Industrial Park on Oahu cannot operate without workers for long before services are affected.
If the pressure drops too low, petrol from Kapolei to Hawaii Kai will be shut off, said Hawaii Teamsters lead contract negotiator Kingsley Lei.
60 Hawaii Gas workers were striking Thursday morning on Kamakee Street in Kakaako. Some waved signs at the building entrances and picketed at Kamakee Street and Kapiolani Boulevard.
Clerical, driver, and “technical and distribution” workers are unionized. Shop steward Ka‘ai Conradt said many Kamakee Street workers repair pipes and other equipment.
“We fix leaks, we do all the maintenance on residential, commercial… meters, underground pipelines,” he said. Our guys from this location handle leaks in the middle of the night.
Union leaders called the company “bad-faith bargaining.”
“We tried to get them back to the table multiple times, but they didn’t want to do it until we commenced the strike,” Holu said Thursday morning. “They tried to settle Wednesday. I’ll settle and return to the table to give our members fair wages and medical costs. Medical costs force our members to return to work.
Hawaii Gas responded, “It is important that the company’s consistent intent to negotiate and to do so in good faith not be mischaracterized. We offered a neutral mediator to advance negotiations. The company intends to meet and negotiate in good faith.
Company executives said the union is demanding a 28.5% salary increase for a three-year contract after initially demanding a 30% increase, which could affect petrol prices.
With energy prices already sky-high, we also have a responsibility to balance those needs with keeping pricing affordable’, Hawaii Gas said in the statement. “We don’t want to raise our state’s high cost of living. Meeting all these imperatives requires a delicate balance.”
Unionized staff supported the strike 161 to 7 according to Conradt.
We must defend our rights. He said, “We sacrifice our bodies for the company every day.”
Hoteliers, restaurateurs, and petrol users worry about the labor dispute.
As of Thursday afternoon, Hawaii Hotel Alliance president Jerry Gibson reported no widespread service issues.
Gibson stated, “Many of our boilers (for heating water) are run by natural gas. Gas powers our kitchens. Gas powers our refrigeration. Our building torches often use natural gas. Losing petrol would be difficult.”
As the strike deadline approached earlier this week, Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association president and CEO Mufi Hannemann expressed optimism, noting that the union and utility prioritized visitor industry service.
He said in a statement that Hawaii Gas and the Teamsters Union warned the visitor industry of a strike. “While we stand ready, we hope to reach a mutually agreeable agreement soon.”