In the News May 27
Workers Affirm Their Rights
Congratulations to Hilton Metrotown Workers in Burnaby, BC!
By a vote of 98 per cent, Hilton Metrotown workers in Burnaby, BC, ratified a new three-year contract on May 11. The agreement, besides providing wages and working conditions acceptable to the workers, included the reinstatement of 97 workers without loss of seniority or wages who were terminated during the pandemic. Those workers had been laid off when the hotel was forced to partially shut down due to COVID-19 and the time specified as the recall period in the collective agreement had passed.
Starting in 2021, their union, UNITE HERE Local 40, successfully negotiated extensions of the recall period for workers employed by many hotels throughout the province which recognized the need for extraordinary measures due to the unforeseen length of closures caused by the pandemic. Hilton Metrotown and several other hotels were holdouts.
The new contract preserves housekeeping jobs and restores daily room cleaning which means greater safety for workers and hotel guests, and also has stronger recall protection for the future. Zailda Chan, President of UNITE HERE Local 40 said in a press release on the settlement that “Workers mobilized massive community support to boycott the hotel and sent a strong message to the hospitality industry that no worker should be treated like they’re disposable.”
The settlement ends a lockout that started on April 15, 2021 when the small number of workers still working at the hotel staged a one-day strike to demand the reinstatement of their co-workers who had been terminated. In response the hotel locked them out. For the next 391 days the workers picketed the hotel where they were joined by other union members, people from the community and local and federal politicians. They held rallies in downtown Vancouver, pickets at the offices of Cabinet Ministers and MLA’s and a rotating hunger strike at the BC legislature for over three weeks in 2020 to make the public aware of their conditions and their demands. The city councils of both New Westminster and Burnaby, many unions and trade groups, wedding planners, Lufthansa Airlines and the BC Federation of Labour all removed their business from the hotel while it refused to end the lockout and reinstate the terminated workers.
The union estimates that 50,000 of its members in BC, roughly 90 per cent, lost their jobs in the two week period when lockdown measures were put in place by the provincial government in the spring of 2020. Right from the start it was clear that recall language in collective agreements and in BC’s Employment Standards Act (ESA) were not adequate for the circumstances of the pandemic. The government used its emergency powers only once, on June 25, 2020, to extend the recall period in the ESA to 24 weeks, which meant that terminated employees’ right to recall would be protected until August 30, 2020. Hospitality workers appealed repeatedly to the NDP government of John Horgan to extend the recall period to the end of the pandemic. Not only did the government, to its shame, refuse to act, the premier, cabinet ministers and members of the legislative assembly refused to discuss the situation with workers and the unions.
By relying on their own efforts and mobilizing the community and the labour movement to support them, the Hilton Metrotown workers have been able to win their fight for job security and for their dignity. Hilton Metrotown was one of the last holdouts. Another is the Pacific Gateway Hotel in Richmond near the Vancouver International Airport. The day after this victory workers there marked the one year anniversary of their strike with a mass picket and rally. They are also fighting for the reinstatement of 143 workers who were terminated when the federal government contracted with the hotel to be a quarantine hotel for travellers arriving in Vancouver by air. After months of protest by the workers the federal government ended its contract with the hotel but the hotel has still not agreed to rehire the workers.
Workers’ Forum heartily congratulates the Hilton Metrotown workers and everyone who supported them. Your persistence, pride in your work and conviction that you would settle for no less than the reinstatement of the terminated workers and a return to work with no concessions on wages and working conditions won the day.
Workers’ Forum, posted May 27, 2022.