Hotel workers’ struggle heats up in Vancouver, Burnaby

PV Vancouver Bureau 

The struggle by hotel workers in the Vancouver region for job security and decent income is heating up as the pandemic continues to hit the tourism sector. On February 19, workers at the Hilton Vancouver Metrotown Hotel in Burnaby launched a partial job action after being hit with mass firings. Hilton has refused to extend workers’ right to return to their jobs beyond 12 months.

Their union, Unite Here Local 40, reports that over 97 percent of 145 workers at the hotel recently voted in favour of a strike. A 72-hour strike notice was issued on February 12.

“This move comes after Hilton Metrotown began mass firings of long-term workers last week, with more expected in coming weeks,” the union said in a media statement. “Hilton Metrotown has refused to recall their staff as the industry recovers. The firings will disproportionately hit women of colour who have long served this hotel.”

Meanwhile, about 75 percent of 165 workers at the luxury Pan Pacific Hotel in Vancouver have voted to unionize and join Unite Here Local 40.

In January, Local 40 filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the Pan Pacific workers. The union points out that more than 60 percent of hotel industry workers are women and that many of these employees are immigrants, visible minorities or Indigenous.

One of the Pan Pacific workers engaged in this struggle, Jerty Gaa, is a public area attendant fighting to be recalled to a job she has held for 11 years. Speaking to Vancouver Sun reporter Keith Fraser, she said the workers who voted to join Local 40 are determined to get through this pandemic together. She is quoted as saying, “This vote shows that women in the hotel industry are standing up and fighting for better protection, wages and benefits, and most importantly – fighting to save our careers.”

The union says that early in the pandemic, hotel management decided to reduce its staff from 450 workers to 80 and to dismiss the rest. But the company sent workers repeated messages delivering false hope suggesting they intended to bring employees back.

This was done in groups of less than 50, says Local 40, to circumvent group termination payout regulations in the Employment Standard Act. The case was filed by a long-term employee who had worked at the hotel for 24 years until he was terminated along with dozens of his coworkers in August.

The lawsuit also alleges that the hotel cheated many workers out of full severance pay. Those who remained were asked to sign an agreement to waive their severance rights and give up regular full-time status in exchange for a mere $250 bonus and health benefits, but some of them were fired anyway.

“The Pan Pacific’s actions were dishonest, self-serving, and reprehensible. Rather than keep their workforce intact, the hotel failed to communicate its termination plan to workers and strung them along with no regard for their future at a time when unemployment in the hotel sector has reached Depression-era levels. No hotel should be allowed to get away with this, which is why Pan Pacific workers are fighting back for what they deserve,” said Zailda Chan, president of UNITE HERE Local 40.

The Pan Pacific Vancouver, located at Canada Place, is owned by an affiliate of Westmont Hospitality Group, one of the world’s largest privately held hospitality companies with over 500 hotels worldwide.

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