Workers want jobs back in return for hotels’ bailouts


NADEN ABENES WON’T EAT TODAY. She’s on the second day of a hunger strike along with nine other members of Unite Here Local 40 in Vancouver, B.C. The hotel workers say their extreme action is necessary to bring attention to their fear of being denied work once the hospitality industry completely reopens.

Naden notes that for many, their jobs are lifelong commitments. She worked at the Hyatt Regency in Vancouver for 12 years. It is considered a relatively short time for those who have made the hotel business their careers.

A race to the bottom

About 50,000 hotel staff will see their temporary layoffs run out at the end of August. There is no guarantee what happens then. Several hotels have already tried to shirk their legal responsibilities to their workers.

For example, the Holiday Inn and Suites in downtown Vancouver and at the Four Points by Sheraton Vancouver Airport claims the pandemic excused it from the responsibility to provide notice or pay severance to its workers.

At the Pan Pacific hotel in Vancouver, management asked workers to accept a rollback of their employment rights or risk losing their jobs. “They are being asked to give up their regular status, their schedule and seniority to become casual, on-call workers. It also appears they are being given $250 to sign away any claims on severance,” said Michelle Travis, research director for Unite Here Local 40.

Rajini Fjani cleaned rooms at the Pan Pacific for five years. She was among 80 who were fired. She said 40 of her former colleagues, some of whom had worked at the hotel for 30 years, got letters asking them to accept becoming casual employees.

The non-union Shangri-La Hotel in Vancouver fired 60 of its 100 workers in May. K.M. Chan was one of them. He had worked as a server in the hotel restaurant for more than five years.

“They’re trying to use this pandemic as an excuse to replace workers with lower wages,” says Stephanie Fung with Unite Here Local 40.  “They’re refusing to call back their longterm workers. It’s a sneaky way to just try and get rid of the longterm workers.”

“That basically creates a race to the bottom.”

Bailout money must also benefit workers

“All workers are in the same boat, union or non-union,” says Fung. “So, we want a guarantee that all workers who were laid off during COVID-19 to be able to return to their jobs.”

“We need to act now, we need to push the government to guarantee our legal right,” says Fung “Any financial relief, any support that goes out to these industries, they need to make sure that they’re not just throwing money away to the corporations, that actually the workers who actually do these jobs benefit from all this.”

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