August 13, 2021 - No. 69

Hotel Workers Persist in Defending Their Rights and Dignity

Women Lead Lively Rally to Support
Fired and Locked-Out BC Workers

Reinstate Montreal Union President Aida Gonçalves! - Pierre Soublière

No to Ontario Government Backroom "Consultations"
Injured Workers' Groups Demand Reversal of Cuts to Compensation for Injured Workers 

Hotel Workers Persist in Defending Their Rights and Dignity

Women Lead Lively Rally to Support
Fired and Locked-Out BC Workers

Unite Here! Local 40 organized a rally and sit-in to mark the one-year anniversary of the struggle by BC hotel workers against layoffs and other draconian actions during the pandemic by hotels in the Lower Mainland. Over 300 hotel workers and their allies assembled in front of the Hilton Metrotown hotel in Burnaby where workers have been locked out since April 15. A band of drums and cymbals could be heard from blocks away. Participants blew whistles and banged on pots and pans surrounded by red signs saying "LOCKED OUT -- Unite Here! Local 40."

Hotel workers were joined by members of many other unions including the women leaders of the Canadian Labour Congress, the BC Federation of Labour, the Canadian Union of Public Employees - BC, the BC General Employees Union, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, the BC Teachers' Federation, the Hospital Employees Union, and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. 

There was a sea of union flags which also included those of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1724, the Construction Maintenance and Allied Workers, the Health Sciences Association, Richmond teachers and others. Migrante BC which counts some of the hotel workers amongst its members, and local, provincial and federal politicians also joined the action. Another prominent sign said, "Do not use the pandemic as an excuse to replace us." Another said, "High standards, low wages."

A Unite Here! Local 40 organizer gave the first short speech in a militant and impassioned manner. She said that 97 employees were terminated by the Hilton Metrotown in mid-April -- a year into the pandemic. When the workers protested by organizing a one-day strike on April 15 the hotel locked them out and they have been locked out ever since. She pointed out that the draconian actions of the Hilton are part of a broader attack on hotel workers across the province. The majority of these workers are women, she said, many of them single parents, and added, "We are not going to take this pandemic profiteering quietly!" 

Two hotel workers described how they had worked very diligently, helping to make the hotel a success, only to be treated in a disrespectful and dismissive manner. Their lives, they said, have become very difficult. A representative from the BC Teachers' Federation said "Pandemic profiteering has to stop!" 

Many BC unions regularly use the Hilton Metrotown for meetings, social gatherings and for accommodation for out of town members attending events in the Lower Mainland, and are currently boycotting the hotel until it commits to rehiring all the workers.

Following the speeches the crowd marched to the nearby major intersection of Kingsway and Willingdon, blocking the intersection during rush hour and chanting slogans that included: What Do We Want? Respect!, Contract! When Do We Want It? Now!, We're Fired Up! Won't Take it No More!, No Justice! No Peace!, No Respect! No Peace! No Health Care! No Peace! No Contract! No Peace!, R-E-S-P-E-C-T. All We Want Is Dignity!

Everyone then marched back to the hotel on McKay Street where the band of drums and cymbals played again vigorously, people keeping time with tapping toes. Before dispersing the crowd pledged with fists upraised "We'll be back! We'll be back!"

(Photos: Unite Here! Local 40)

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Reinstate Montreal Union President Aida Gonçalves!

Aida Gonçalves front and centre at a hotel workers' rally

The Quebec Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN) reported that on July 23, the president of the Marriott Château Champlain hotel workers' union in Montreal was fired by her employer the week before. Aida Gonçalves had worked for the hotel for more than 30 years.

The union president was suspended, then fired, after workers carried out a "visibility campaign" in the hotel lobby on July 8 to demand the renewal of their collective agreement. Now the employer is refusing to negotiate with the union if its president is at the table.

This firing has taken place while hotel workers everywhere are in action in defence of their working conditions and their livelihood as hotel owners, while complaining of staff shortages, are refusing to respect the workers' right to recall and seniority as hotels reopen following the pandemic measures. On July 22, hotel workers in Quebec City demonstrated in front of the Delta and Hilton hotels, demanding a collective agreement which respects their right of recall and seniority retroactively to March 13, 2020. They are also asking for wage increases of 2.1 to four per cent for each year of a four-year collective agreement.

On July 22, Quebec hotel workers held a symbolic picket in front of the Hôtel PUR to express their solidarity with the 97 workers who were fired by the Hilton Metrotown Hotel in British Columbia, owned by DSDL Canada Investments, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hôtel PUR workers have also organized a letter-writing campaign directed to the hotel owners demanding that DSDL stop mistreating hotel workers across Canada and are providing financial aid for the fired and locked-out workers of Hilton Metrotown. The BC Federation of Labour has called for a boycott of the Hilton Metrotown, calling on all unionized customers to not do business with the hotel. A boycott was also instituted by the Alberta Federation of Labour of the Varscona, Mettera and Matrix hotels in Edmonton, also owned by DSDL.

Within this context, the firing of Aida Gonçalves must be condemned far and wide as a further attack on hotel workers across Canada and on the entire working class. She must be reinstated as a necessary step in obtaining a satisfactory collective agreement which treats workers with respect. As in other sectors such as health, staff shortages, where they exist, can only be resolved by improving working and living conditions, not by making them worse.

Hotel workers protest in Marriott Château Champlain lobby on July 8, 2021

(Photos: CSN)

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No to Ontario Government Backroom "Consultations"

Injured Workers' Groups Demand Reversal
of Cuts to Compensation for Injured Workers

On August 10 the Thunder Bay & District Injured Workers Support Group (TBDIWSG) organized a Zoom meeting to firmly reject the Ontario Ministry of Labour's "consultations" and plan on what to do with what they call "surplus" Workplace Safety Insurance Board (WSIB) funds.

The government held a 26-day "consultation" which wrapped up on August 10. It was only due to the work of the Thunder Bay injured workers that it came to light that this was taking place, as neither injured workers organizations nor labour organizations, such as the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL), were informed of the consultations or invited to participate. Instead the announcement was buried in the "employer" pages of the WSIB website.

Despite the attempts to silence injured workers' voices, the Ontario Network of Injured Workers' Groups (ONIWG) has submitted its proposals on how the funds should be used, as has the OFL and a number of injured workers who made submissions in their own names. That injured workers and their allies were able to immediately get together to challenge this latest suppression of their voices speaks volumes about their ongoing work for justice and to end their marginalization and about their persistence in carrying on discussions and actions despite the difficulties posed by the pandemic.

Moderator Jules Tupker from the TBDIWSG stated that injured workers vigorously object to the Ministry of Labour holding consultations on how to disperse surplus funds without the input of those directly affected -- the injured workers.

ONIWG President Janet Paterson led off the discussion by giving a brief history of the cuts made to benefits paid to injured workers in the recent period. She recounted that the WSIB's unfunded liability was eliminated by 2018 through cuts and the suppression of injured workers' claims. The government has the responsibility to ensure the WSIB upholds the historic arrangement by which workers gave up the right to sue their employers in return for an employer funded compensation system that would fully compensate them for as long as their injury or illness lasted, Paterson stated.

Before there can be any discussion of there being "surplus" funds in the system, and how to give rebates to employers, the cuts to the WSIB benefits must be reversed, Paterson pointed out, and after that any additional available funds should go to improving benefits for injured workers, many of whom live in poverty.

OFL President Patty Coates pointed out that the government has a record of suppressing workers' voices, and this case is no different. What the government is proposing to do is beyond insulting to injured workers, to those who have lost their lives and to their families, she said. The OFL's submission echoes that of ONIWG, calling among other things for a restoration of WSIB benefits to pre-1995 levels, before the Mike Harris government's cuts.

Orlando Buonastella from Injured Workers' Consultants pointed out that for 26 years injured workers were sacrificed at the altar of the so-called "unfunded liability" which was not in fact a debt and did not threaten the WSIB's viability. The Canada Pension Plan, for example, operates on the basis of being 40 per cent funded. Based on this bogus "unfunded liability" injured workers faced two rounds of cuts. The first, in 1995 under the Mike Harris government, cut a total of $15 billion from the system at immense human costs to the injured workers. The second round, under the McGuinty government, cut the funding in half. Meanwhile rates paid by employers into WSIB have been reduced by 47.1 per cent and this latest consultation is about how to again reduce the rates paid by employers.

Ted Bobrowski, President of the TBDIWSG said that the Ministry of Labour consultations had been brought forward at a meeting of the organization's Platform for Change committee which decided immediate action was needed to stop the Ministry's plan. He stated that the $4 billion surplus in WSIB funds is a scam against the people of Ontario who pay the cost when the WSIB system does not justly compensate injured workers and instead forces them onto social programs such as the Ontario Disability Support Program. It is important that injured workers take a stand, but also that all workers stand up and oppose these measures that affect all of us, he said.

Steve Mantis, chair of ONIWG's Research Action Committee, who has been studying the compensation system for the last 43 years, was the last to make a presentation. He provided information on how the burden of paying down the unfunded liability, which was originally to come out of employers' WSIB contributions, fell on the backs of injured workers as employer contributions were reduced. He provided information about the situation faced by those with serious workplace injuries who are unable to return to the work force and have been abandoned by the Ontario government.

Following the presentation the floor was opened, first to questions from the media and then for interventions from the many injured workers and advocates participating. 

Pierre Chénier, representing the Workers' Centre of CPC(M-L), said that the experience of the injured workers is similar to that of the unemployed. The federal government also invoked the fraud of unfunded liability of the system to wreck the lives of the unemployed by drastically reducing eligibility and cutting benefits, leading to a "surplus" of over $60 billion which they then took possession of and used to pay the rich through various schemes. At the moment, he said, workers are fighting the dismantling of the occupational health and safety regime in Quebec with the stated aim of saving $4 billion in 10 years for employers. There too injured workers' voices are excluded. They had to vigorously protest to even be heard in the public hearings, he said. He asked the injured workers groups to elaborate on the work they are doing to have their voices heard.

Several workers responded, emphasizing the need for the voice of injured workers to be heard by the public, to educate people on their conditions and demands and how the compensation system operates. Steve Mantis spoke about the work of the speakers schools organized by ONIWG and its member groups in 8-10 communities to provide injured workers with the skills and support they need to be able to face a goliath of a system which has a great deal of control over their lives and which can, and does, further penalize them when they speak out.

A lively discussion ensued with people sharing their experiences in organizing for their rights and sharing submissions they had prepared for the Ministry of Labour consultations on what to do with the "surplus" funds. Speakers expressed their conviction that change was needed now and that their voices must be heard. They also expressed their determination to be active in the upcoming 2022 Ontario election and to hold all political parties and politicians to account.

(Photos: WF, K. Jones)

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