Heads of BC’s largest unions and Canadian Labour Congress Demand Hotel Industry Return Workers to their Jobs in Unprecedented Sit-In Action in Burnaby
Vancouver, BC: Today, women leaders from B.C.’s largest labour unions and across Canada joined women hotel workers to lead a mass sit-in that brought Burnaby traffic to a halt. They led hundreds of protestors into the streets to occupy the intersection of Kingsway and Willingdon to demand the hotel industry return long-term staff to their jobs. Hotel housekeepers, front desk agents, and other women hotel workers from Hilton Metrotown and Pacific Gateway, represented by UNITE HERE Local 40, took over the street with union leaders to protest the hotel industry’s treatment of workers during the pandemic and called for more action on the part of industry and government to protect workers’ jobs. The demonstration kicked-off at Hilton Metrotown in Burnaby where workers have been locked out for 112 days.
The unprecedented sit-in action brought together women presidents and officers of BC’s major unions, including Teri Mooring, BC Teachers’ Federation; Barb Nederpel and Betty Valenzuela, Hospital Employees’ Union; Karen Ranalletta, CUPE BC; Kim Novak, UFCW 1518; Kari Michaels, BC General Employees’ Union; Coleen Jones, Canadian Union of Postal Workers; Sussanne Skidmore, BC Federation of Labour; Zailda Chan, UNITE HERE Local 40, as well the newly elected leadership team of the Canadian Labour Congress, Bea Bruske, Lily Chang, and Siobhan Vipond, and other leaders in support of women hotel workers who are the backbone of the industry and have borne the brunt of the pandemic.
The mass protest put focus on Hilton Metrotown where workers were locked out on April 15 after the hotel terminated 97 long-term staff, including women with 20 years on the job. The hotel has used pandemic firings in an effort to strip away decades of hard-won economic gains. Striking workers from Pacific Gateway in Richmond were also among the women who led the action. Pacific Gateway, a federal quarantine site, terminated 142 workers, 90 of whom are women. A human rights complaint over sex and racial discrimination was filed against the hotel in June, alleging women, particularly racialized women, have been disproportionately targeted for terminations while men’s jobs were more likely to be protected.
When the pandemic hit BC in March 2020, 50,000 hospitality workers were laid off. Instead of committing to bring them back as business recovers, the hotel industry terminated thousands of workers, many of whom are women and immigrants. In response to the industry’s efforts to erode workers’ economic security, UNITE HERE Local 40 launched the BC Unequal Women campaign to call attention to the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women hotel workers. With recovery in sight, the industry’s actions have contributed to their current labour shortage woes.
Hilton Metrotown and Pacific Gateway hotel workers have received widespread support from BC’s unions, the BC Federation of Labour which issued a public boycott of both hotels, community groups across the Lower Mainland, and elected officials across municipal, provincial and federal levels of government.
Zailda Chan, President of UNITE HERE Local 40:
“Hilton Metrotown is a prime example of how employers are using the pandemic to erode everything workers built over decades. But workers aren’t letting the hotel industry get away with this. Together, with union and community allies across Canada, women leaders are standing up and calling on the hotel industry to bring fired women back to their jobs.”
Baljinder Kahlon, fired housekeeping supervisor at Hilton Metrotown:
“While businesses are reopening and people are travelling again now that border restrictions are lifted, I should be gearing up to go back to my housekeeping job. But I’m not. Instead, my hotel says that after 20 years of my loyalty and service, they don’t want me. I raised my kids on this job. The hotel industry is treating us women as if we’re disposable, which is unacceptable. That’s why we are leading the way for a better future for all workers so that no one gets left behind.”
Teri Mooring, President of the BC Teachers’ Federation:
“It’s disgusting how the Hilton Metrotown has exploited the pandemic to blatantly disregard the rights of its unionized employees, most of whom are women of colour. The BCTF and our 47,000 members stand in solidarity with UNITE HERE! Local 40 members and will continue to take our business elsewhere until these workers’ rights are fully restored.”
Karen Ranalletta, President of CUPE BC:
“The way the Hilton has treated its workers – mostly women, mostly racialized – tells you all you need to know about this company’s so-called values. Until this hotel negotiates a fair resolution with UNITE HERE Local 40, this hotel won’t see a nickel’s worth of business from CUPE BC. I want Hilton management to hear this: Local 40 has the full support of our 100,000 members.”
Barb Nederpel, President of Hospital Employees’ Union:
“HEU’s 50,000+ members stand firmly with UNITE HERE Local 40 members who are fighting for their livelihoods. We will not back down until hotel employers guarantee recall rights for all laid off workers during the COVID-19 pandemic and treats these workers—made up mainly of women and people of colour—with the fairness and respect they deserve.”
Stephanie Smith, President of BC General Employees’ Union:
“The Hilton Metrotown is using the pandemic as an excuse to attack their workers’ basic rights. It’s unconscionable and it must stop. The 82,000+ members of the BCGEU stand in solidarity with the women of Unite Here Local 40. We will support their fight for fairness however we can for as long as it takes.”
Sussanne Skidmore, Secretary-Treasurer of the BC Federation of Labour:
“It’s shameful that Hilton Metrotown has locked out their long-term workers for 112 days. On behalf of the BC Federation of Labour, we will continue to boycott this hotel and keep the public pressure on to ensure that women return to their jobs!”
Bea Bruske, President of the Canadian Labour Congress:
“These workers should be treated like the heroes they are. Hotel workers, the majority of whom are women, have been among those hardest hit by the economic impact of the pandemic. We do not tolerate employers who try to recover on the backs of women by making work more precarious and insecure. The Canadian Labour Congress, representing over three million workers, fully supports workers at Hilton Metrotown, Pacific Gateway and others who are courageously fighting for their jobs.”
UNITE HERE Local 40 is the hospitality workers’ union and represents members in the hotel, food service and airport industries throughout British Columbia. Learn more at UniteHereLocal40.org.