Press Release: Labour Board rules Richmond hotel owner threatened, intimidated strikers on picket line

Vancouver, BC — Strikers at Radisson Blu Vancouver Airport have won a BC Labour Board decision that found the hotel employer repeatedly committed unfair labour practices during their strike. This decision comes as the workers recently marked their third year on the picket line.

In a decision written by Vice Chair Gurleen Sahota, the Board declared the employer and, in particular, Sukhminder Rai, the majority owner of Radisson Blu Vancouver Airport Hotel, breached the labour code by intimidating and threatening strikers on the picket line, many of whom are women and part of the Punjabi community. Mr. Rai also offered to pay off an older striker in an attempt to induce her to retire and abandon the strike.  Mr. Rai is the president of Surrey-based PHI Hotel Group, which operates Radisson Blu Vancouver Airport.

The decision cited several examples of the employer engaging in intimidation, threats, and an effort to undermine the bargaining unit, including:

  • On the picket line, Mr. Rai threatened a striking maintenance worker’s employment by telling him: “the day after I settle, you know, I can fire you.” Vice Chair Sahota found the threat had the impact of “exerting pressure” on the striker.
  • Rai told the strikers that he was getting rid of the hotel kitchen and there would not be jobs for striking kitchen staff. However, under cross-examination, Mr. Rai admitted to the Board that he planned to continue operating a kitchen at the hotel. Vice Chair Sahota noted Mr. Rai’s comments contradicted the employer’s bargaining proposal made months later which included kitchen staff. The Vice Chair found that Mr. Rai’s actions amounted to intimidation: “In effect, the manner and frequency in which the comments were made leads me to find Rai repeatedly implied that the employees picketing and ongoing support of the Union was futile because the employees would not have their jobs to return to.”
  • Rai repeatedly taunted one of the strikers, a Punjabi room attendant who had worked at the hotel for nearly 30 years, had spoken to press about the strike and is a member of the union bargaining committee.
  • The Vice Chair found that Mr. Rai also breached the code when he told an older striker she should stay home and take care of grandkids and offered to pay her to do so. Rai repeated this sentiment to strikers again at another time. His comments were made prior to the employer’s proposal which made no mention of retirement payments to strikers. The Vice Chair found this to be an unfair labour practice by encouraging a striker to no longer strike or be a member of the union and undermined the Union’s exclusive bargaining authority.

“This decision is a legal and moral victory.  The strikers have courageously refused to let the owner get away with attempts to threaten, intimidate, and undermine their union. It is not easy to stand up and fight for justice, but Radisson Blu Vancouver Airport strikers have resolved to fight for the respect they deserve.  This should send a strong message to any employer who thinks they are above the law,” said Zailda Chan, President of UNITE HERE Local 40.

The Labour Board has ordered the owner to cease and desist from further breaches of the Code. This ruling follows three previous consent awards in which the employer admitted to using impermissible replacement workers during the strike. Workers struck in May 2021 in protest over mass pandemic firings of 143 workers and the threat of economic rollbacks as the employer raked in millions when the hotel was used as a federal quarantine site.

In an unrelated case, Mr. Rai is currently being sued by a business partner, an affiliate of the Siksika Nation, for alleged fraud and misappropriation of $16 million in funds in connection to its management of Westin Calgary Airport when that hotel was used as a federal quarantine hotel.

Media Contacts: Sharan Pawa, sharan@unitehere40.com, 604-710-1693; or Michelle Travis, mtravis@unitehere.org, 778-960-9785