For Immediate Release
April 12, 2021
Employer reneges on promise to extend health benefits after inducing workers to sign away their severance rights
Vancouver, BC — Today, hotel workers filed a class action lawsuit against the Pan Pacific Vancouver for reneging on its contractual agreement to maintain their health benefits during the pandemic. Pan Pacific promised to provide workers extended health benefits indefinitely if workers agreed to give up certain entitlements, including severance pay. Despite the agreement, hotel management abruptly terminated workers’ health coverage. This is the second class action lawsuit workers have filed against Pan Pacific following an earlier lawsuit filed in January over wrongful terminations.
The suit, which was filed on behalf of all employees who signed the casual agreement but later lost benefits, alleges that the hotel misled workers, misrepresented the terms of the agreement, and failed to act in good faith. The case was filed by three employees who signed the agreement, including a guest services lead, a guest services agent, and a cook, whose extended health benefits were recently terminated. The workers are seeking certification as a class action on behalf of all affected workers.
In the agreement, hotel management offered to continue workers’ health benefits and pay them $250 if they gave up their regular full-time status to become casual, on-call workers and waive their severance rights. Of the 156 workers offered the new contract last summer, 93 signed. Most or all have since had their benefits terminated.
Tonia Lee, one of the plaintiffs and a guest services lead at the hotel, said: “I gave up my full-time status to become a casual worker because extended benefits are important for my spouse and I. At the time, I knew I would have neither work nor money coming in and the least that I could have would be extended medical and dental coverage. I was never aware of an end date at all to the healthcare membership plan, which I feel the company knew very well. I would never have signed this contract knowing also that I was giving up my severance of many years. I feel they took advantage of us at our most vulnerable when the future looked bleak. I actually thought they cared about their long-term employees that put their whole life into this business. It’s disgusting.”
Zailda Chan, President of UNITE HERE Local 40, said: “The Pan Pacific’s actions were dishonest and negligent on all fronts. Hotel management promised to maintain workers’ health benefits during a public health crisis, then yanked them away after workers gave up their job status and severance rights. Is this how hotel employers demonstrate their care for the women and people of colour who worked so hard for them over the years?”
Workers are seeking damages for losses that arose due to terminated health benefits. This includes punitive damages and costs that would have been paid by the healthcare provider had Pan Pacific abided by its agreement.
The high-end Pan Pacific Vancouver, located at Canada Place, is owned by an affiliate of Westmont Hospitality Group. Westmont is one of the world’s largest privately held hospitality companies with over 500 hotels worldwide.
UNITE HERE Local 40 is a labour union representing workers in the hotel, food service and airport industries throughout British Columbia. Learn more at UniteHereLocal40.org.