Press Release: UNITE HERE Local 40 Questions Province’s Eligibility Rules for New $15-million Tourism Relief Fund

Union urges province to disqualify hotel owners who eliminated staff during pandemic

Vancouver, B.C. — UNITE HERE Local 40 is urging Premier John Horgan and Tourism Minister Melanie Mark to tighten eligibility rules for hotels seeking property tax relief through a new pandemic relief fund.  In a letter to the Premier and Minister Mark, the Union urges the province to disqualify hotel employers who terminated workers during the pandemic from eligibility and asks whether the province will grant property tax relief to hotel owners that use tax havens.

On Friday, the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture announced a new $15 million relief program, the Tourism Accommodation and Commercial Recreation Relief Fund.  One of the three funding streams will provide large hotel owners with a property tax break of 25%, up to a maximum of $500,000.  To be eligible, hotel owners must have employed 150 workers or more in 2019.  However, some hotels that stand to benefit eliminated staff during the pandemic.

Pacific Gateway Hotel near Vancouver Airport employed more than 200 workers before the pandemic. Hotel management terminated over 140 workers last year rather than commit to return them to their jobs when business returns. The hotel is co-owned by PHI Hotel Group and Van-Air Holdings Ltd, an offshore company based in the Bahamas, a tax haven jurisdiction.

The Union also wants to ensure major B.C. hotel owners like Westmont Hospitality Group will be ineligible based on current rules that require majority owners to be B.C. residents.   Westmont affiliates own Pan Pacific Vancouver, Fairmont Waterfront, and JW Marriott Parq, each of which terminated workers during the pandemic.  Westmont is based in Mississauga and Houston.

“Rather the padding the bottom lines of wealthy corporations and developers that own hotels, the province should ensure government funded relief is directed to employers who commit to return pre-pandemic staff to their jobs. Otherwise, the province will be financially rewarding wealthy employers who undercut the most vulnerable during a public health crisis. Women, particularly women of colour, continue to bear the economic brunt of pandemic job losses in B.C.’s hotel sector,” said Zailda Chan, president of UNITE HERE Local 40.

For more information, please contact: Stephanie Fung, 604-928-7356, [email protected], or Michelle Travis, 778-960-9785, [email protected]

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Hospitality Union Launches New ‘Unethical DSDL’ Website as Hilton Metrotown Lockout Enters Ninth Month

Vancouver, B.C. – UNITE HERE Local 40 has launched a new bilingual (English/Korean) website, UnethicalDSDL.ca, to shine a light on the overseas company behind the lockout of Hilton Metrotown workers. Visitors to the site are urged to take action and direct a message to South Korea’s Ambassador to Canada concerning DSDL’s treatment of workers during the pandemic.

DSDL Co., based in Seoul, is the owner of Hilton Vancouver Metrotown and was once a part of South Korean conglomerate, Hyosung Corporation. The founding Chairman of DSDL has a history of convictions for financial crimes committed in South Korea.

Hilton Metrotown locked out its staff on April 15, 2021, after terminating 97 long-term workers during the Covid-19 pandemic. Most of the affected workers are women and immigrants. Workers are entering their ninth month on the picket line and have urged the hotel to reinstate all workers, restore daily room sanitizing, and to preserve wages, benefits, and working conditions amidst a labour shortage. The B.C. and Alberta Federations of Labour have endorsed boycotts of Hilton Vancouver Metrotown and DSDL’s hotels in Edmonton, respectively.

The new website provides background on the prominent family behind DSDL. It’s founding Chairman, Cho Wuk-rai, was convicted and sentenced to prison twice in South Korea: the first time for embezzlement, and later, for arranging illegal financial transactions that led to the bankruptcy of two publicly traded companies, including one that later became DSDL. Other members of the Cho family formed industrial conglomerate Hyosung Corporation and Hankook Tire and have recently faced criminal prosecution for tax evasion and bribery in South Korea.

The new website also highlights DSDL’s relationship with lender Canadian Western Bank and questions whether the bank fully examined the risks of doing business with this hotel owner.

UnethicalDSDL.ca features an online petition tool to send a message to DSDL and the South Korean Ambassador to Canada, Keung Ryong Chang, urging a resolution to the labour dispute. The site also provides information about the current boycott of DSDL hotels in Canada, and about recent actions taken at South Korean consulates and embassies across North America.

“It’s time for DSDL to act ethically and stop mistreating us long-term, loyal workers. Many of my co-workers and I gave two decades of service to Hilton Metrotown and proudly served guests from all over the world.  We don’t deserve to be fired and locked out, especially during a public health crisis. Workers in Canada expect better treatment than this,” said Sergio Moyer, a locked-out guest services lead with over 20 years on the job.

For more information, please contact: Stephanie Fung, 604-928-7356, [email protected], or Michelle Travis, 778-960-9785, [email protected]

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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.

BC Labour Board Twice Rules Pan Pacific Vancouver Violated Labour Code

Workers Win Third Legal Victory this Month Against Hotel

Vancouver, BC — In two separate decisions, the BC Labour Relations Board ruled that the Pan Pacific Vancouver hotel violated the BC Labour Relations Code three times: by changing terms and conditions of employment without negotiating with UNITE HERE Local 40, by refusing to recognize the inclusion of on-call workers in the unionized workforce, and by refusing to disclose important bargaining information to the union. Pan Pacific workers were certified as members of UNITE HERE Local 40 in February 2021.

Last year, prior to unionization, the Pan Pacific sent laid-off workers separate employment agreements to sign. One group was asked to be available 24 hours a week; the second group was offered $250 to sign a contract taking away their regular full-time status to become casual staff. In a ruling made on December 15, the Labour Board found that Pan Pacific breached Section 45(1)(b) of the Code when the hotel later sent new letters to these workers changing their terms and conditions of employment. In August 2021, the hotel sent letters to the 24-hour group, telling them they needed to be available for more than 24 hours, and in September 2021, the hotel sent letters to casual workers requiring unrestricted availability. 

The Board ordered the hotel to rescind the “offending communications” and make a declaration that the employer breached Section 45 of the Labour Code, that any changes to the terms and conditions of employment of any employee are null and void, and ordering that the Employer provide a copy of this decision to all employees who received the letters.

In a separate decision issued this month, the Board ruled that Pan Pacific Vancuver committed another code violation by refusing to share contact information with Local 40, along with excluding the on-call employees from the bargaining unit entirely. Pan Pacific must now send UNITE HERE Local 40 all employee telephone numbers and contact information for all of the on call employees. The hotel also cannot refuse to negotiate contract terms for on-call employees.

“The Labour Board’s decisions are a double victory for Pan Pacific Vancouver workers who have every right to be included in our union and engage in collective bargaining. These legal victories also demonstrate the hotel’s treatment of workers during the pandemic violated basic labour rights,” said Zailda Chan, President of UNITE HERE Local 40. “Pan Pacific workers deserve much more from their employer, including recall rights, wages that match other downtown hotels in this city, fairer workloads, and scheduling by seniority, to name a few.”

Pan Pacific workers are currently negotiating their first collective agreement. The Labour Board rulings come on the heels of a decision issued on December 10, 2021, by a BC Supreme Court judge to allow a lawsuit over wrongful termination filed by a former employee to proceed as a class action.

Media Contacts: Stephanie Fung, 604-928-7356, [email protected], or Michelle Travis, [email protected], 778-960-9785

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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.

NDP calls on Liberal government to move PHAC out of Pacific Gateway Hotel

Letter to Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos urges government action to resolve negative impacts on hotel workers at quarantine site. 

Vancouver, BC — NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and NDP health critic Don Davies are urging federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos to move Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) out of Pacific Gateway immediately and to urge the hotel to reinstate workers to their jobs. The government has been using Pacific Gateway as a federal quarantine hotel since last year. Over 140 workers – mostly women – were terminated after the takeover. Workers have been on strike since May 3, 2021.

In a letter addressed to Minister Duclos on December 13, Singh and Davies expressed their concerns about the ongoing situation at Pacific Gateway affecting the livelihoods of hotel workers. They noted “wretched” conditions at the hotel experienced by quarantined travellers, cited recently in The Globe and Mail, which is “matched by the terrible treatment of Pacific Gateway workers on the government’s watch.” 

PHAC is currently contracting the Red Cross and others to deliver food and clean the hotel; these were duties performed by Pacific Gateway workers before they were displaced and, many of them, terminated. The hotel has refused to return terminated staff to their jobs after the quarantine program ends. 

“That the government is continuing to give millions in public funds to a company while its workers are on strike and continues to hire contractors that cross their picket line, does not show your commitment to support workers and the work of unions,” the New Democrats stated. 

Pacific Gateway workers brought this issue to the attention of former Health Minister Patty Hajdu, and former PHAC President Iain Stewart. However, PHAC has repeatedly extended its contract with the hotel. The NDP is joining the hotel workers’ call to Minister Duclos and new PHAC president Harpreet Kochhar to move PHAC out of the hotel and to not renew beyond December 2021.

Media Contacts: Stephanie Fung, 604-928-7356, [email protected], or Michelle Travis, [email protected], 778-960-9785

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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.

 

Supreme Court Judge Gives Green Light to Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against Pan Pacific Vancouver

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 14, 2021

Vancouver, BC — A B.C. Supreme Court judge has ruled that a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of employees terminated during the pandemic may proceed against Pan Pacific Vancouver. A former concierge who was employed by the hotel for 24 years filed the lawsuit after he was terminated last August. The class action will represent all regular hourly employees of the Pan Pacific as of February 20, 2020 whose shifts were cancelled on or after that date.

The lawsuit alleges workers were wrongfully fired during the COVID-19 pandemic. The plaintiff, Romuel Escobar, claims the hotel misled workers, wrongfully terminated them without cause or notice, and skirted full severance pay owed to workers for their years of service. Early in the pandemic, hotel management detailed plans to drastically reduce its staff from 450 workers to 80 and to dismiss the rest. Rather than informing members about the impending dismissals, the company sent workers messages of false hope and suggested they intended to bring their long-term staff back.

Pan Pacific terminated staff in batches to avoid group termination provisions in the Employment Standards Act that required advance notice and would trigger larger payouts to workers, according to the lawsuit. Between firings, the hotel also offered workers $250 to sign a contract taking away their regular full-time status to become casual, on-call workers, effectively waiving their severance rights. The hotel fired workers anyway, regardless of whether they signed.

“The Court’s decision to allow the lawsuit to proceed as a class action sends a strong message to hotel employers: misleading your long-term workforce for months before mass firing them could lead to financial consequences. That’s why this development is a positive step forward for nearly 100 terminated workers at the Pan Pacific who deserve much better treatment from their employer during Covid,” said Zailda Chan, President of UNITE HERE Local 40.

Pan Pacific Vancouver workers organized to join UNITE HERE Local 40 last year. Many of the affected Pan Pacific workers are immigrants and women of colour who have served the hotel for 20 to 30 years. Of the total women fired from the hotel since June 2020, 94% were women of colour.

Pan Pacific Vancouver is a luxury hotel at Canada Place. It is owned by an affiliate of Westmont Hospitality Group. Westmont is one of the world’s largest privately held hospitality companies with over 400 hotels worldwide. Westmont received over $48 million from government funded COVID-19 relief programs across North America but failed to keep its workforce intact.

Media Contact: Stephanie Fung, 604-928-7356, [email protected], or Michelle Travis, [email protected], 778-960-9785

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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.