Press Release: Hotel Workers’ Union Calls on U.S. Government to Investigate $34 million in Taxpayer Loans to Canadian-based Westmont Hospitality

Owner of Pan Pacific Vancouver and other hotels collected $34 million in U.S. Paycheck Protection Program Loans despite eliminating staff; echoes Westmont’s use of Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, concerns over unchecked use of COVID-related government subsidies and loans

VANCOUVER, BC – UNITE HERE Locals representing hotel workers in British Columbia, Southern California, and Arizona are demanding that the U.S. Government halt loan forgiveness for $34 million in Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) loans connected to Westmont Hospitality.  In a letter to the U.S. Small Business Association, the Locals request an investigation into 35-Westmont connected loans, and question how many of their 4,024 reported employees tied to the loans were terminated.

Westmont took advantage of a loophole that enabled large hotel chains to apply for forgivable loans originally intended for small businesses to return workers to payroll.  Westmont claims to be one of the largest privately held hospitality organizations in the world, holding an ownership interest in and operating over 500 hotels.  The U.S. Small Business Administration (“SBA”), which oversees the PPP, has already forgiven one loan tied to the firm’s corporate office in Houston.

PPP borrowers were required to spend 60% of PPP loan proceeds on payroll costs to qualify for full loan forgiveness, but the SBA has not disclosed how Westmont has used its PPP loans.  In the U.S., a Westmont-owned hotel obtained two PPP loans tied to the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville in Florida worth $5.49 million. WARN notices filed by the hotel indicate 121 workers were terminated.

The letter asks whether Westmont received any loans connected to the Pan Pacific Vancouver in British Columbia. The hotel fired approximately 100 long-term workers during the pandemic and induced remaining workers to sign away their full-time status and severance rights.  Westmont, headquartered in Mississauga, owns Pan Pacific Vancouver, Fairmont Waterfront and co-owns the JW Marriott Parq Vancouver and The Douglas, and controls dozens more hotels across North America.

The largesse from the U.S. Government prompts questions over how much Westmont has received in public subsidies from Canada’s federal wage subsidy program (CEWS) and in government-backed loans through the Highly Affected Sectors Credit Availability Program (HASCAP).  Although Westmont affiliates tied to Pan Pacific Vancouver and Fairmont Waterfront tapped CEWS, both hotels terminated long-term staff during the pandemic contrary to the intent of the program.

Westmont may also benefit from the newly launched federal hiring subsidy, the Canada Recovery Hiring Benefit (CRHP), and the Tourism Relief Fund which provides tourism operators with up to $500,000 in funding.  The Trudeau government has not required public reporting of amounts received by individual businesses for COVID-related subsidies or government-backed loans to ensure programs are not abused.

Zailda Chan, President of UNITE HERE Local 40, said: “Westmont Hospitality has reaped millions in taxpayer relief from the U.S. and Canadian governments while turning their backs on their employees during the pandemic.  Hotel employers should not be rewarded for eroding the jobs of their workers, primarily women and racialized people, on the government’s dime.  How much longer should taxpayers across our two nations support Westmont while their workers fall through the cracks?”

UNITE HERE Local 40 represents workers at Pan Pacific Vancouver.  UNITE HERE Local 11 represents workers at Westmont-operated Hilton Hotel & Suites in Santa Monica and westdrift Manhattan Beach in California.

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Contact: Michelle Travis, [email protected], 778-960-9785

CWB Questioned Over Scrutiny of Offshore Hotel Borrower’s History of Embezzlement, Illegal Transactions, Long-Term Impact of Hotel Boycott

For Immediate Release

VANCOUVER, BC — UNITE HERE is urging Canadian Western Bank (TSE: CWB) (“CWB”) to review whether its lending division was aware of financial crimes committed in South Korea by an officer of the Seoul-based company that owns Hilton Vancouver Metrotown and to evaluate financial risks posed by the hotel’s protracted lockout of its workers.  In a recent letter to CWB’s board of directors, the union that represents workers at the hotel questioned the level of due diligence CWB may have conducted into hotel owner, DSDL Canada Investments, a subsidiary of Seoul-based DSDL Co.

DSDL is owned by members of the prominent and politically connected Cho family that founded South Korean conglomerate Hyosung Corporation, the world’s largest producer of spandex. DSDL’s Chairman, Cho Wuk-rai, was indicted for embezzling company funds from a Hyosung subsidiary and later sentenced to prison. He received a pardon the next year.

DSDL’s Chairman was convicted and sentenced to prison again in 2009 for setting up illegal loans between businesses he controlled which eventually led to the bankruptcy of two publicly traded companies.  Mr. Cho received a special pardon by South Korea President Lee Myung-bak, to whom Cho is related through marriage.  In 2010, the year after Mr. Cho received his second conviction, DSDL bought Hilton Metrotown.

Hilton Metrotown locked-out staff three months ago. The BC Federation of Labour issued a boycott against the hotel which is losing millions of dollars worth of current and future business as travel restrictions ease. DSDL’s hotels in Edmonton are also at risk of a boycott. DSDL’s failure to address the financial impact of the lockout should be cause for concern, particularly in light of the firm’s corporate history.

The letter asks whether CWB was aware of these convictions or if DSDL ever disclosed this material information to the bank.  If CWB was informed, the union questions why the bank approved the loan and whether they extended loans to DSDL’s other Canadian businesses, including three Edmonton hotels acquired in 2017 and another in Quebec City acquired in 2019.

UNITE HERE is calling on CWB to undertake a proper due diligence review of DSDL and to re-evaluate whether lending to DSDL is worth the risk.

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

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Job Posting: Casual General Help Workers at Evelyne Saller Centre

Evenlyne Saller Centre in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is looking to fill 2 Casual General Help positions immediately. Positions may include Dishwasher, General Help, or Prep Cook.

If interested, please call John at 604 675 5983 or email him at [email protected] with your resume.

Evelyne Saller Centre is located at 320 Alexander St., Vancouver BC.

PRESS RELEASE: Municipal Support Grows as City of Vancouver Passes Motion in Support of Hotel Workers

Vancouver, BC — Yesterday, Vancouver City Council passed a motion to support laid-off hotel workers’ right to return to their jobs. The motion, sponsored by Councillor Jean Swanson, received support across the political spectrum with all councillors present voting in favour and one abstention. The City of Vancouver joins the City of Burnaby, Victoria City Council, and New Westminster City Council in passing similar motions.

The motion calls on Council to affirm that people should not lose their livelihoods due to the pandemic and to support the BC Unequal Women campaign. Council will request the Mayor write to the Ministers of Labour and Tourism expressing Council’s support for the right for laid-off workers to return to their jobs when the pandemic eases. The motion also calls on the Mayor to write to the Lower Mainland Local Government Association and Union of BC Municipalities encouraging them to host future conventions in venues that respect workers’ rights.

The motion not only indicates City support for laid-off hotel workers hit hard by the pandemic; it also sends a powerful message to hotels that use COVID-19 as an excuse to fire their employees that they could risk a loss in business if they do not treat workers fairly. City support for hotel workers’ right to return to their jobs has strong ramifications for large  conventions such as UBCM that utilize a number of downtown hotels. 

The COVID-19 pandemic devastated the hospitality industry throughout the province and disproportionately affected women and people of colour, many of whom work at hotels in Vancouver. BC hotels are using the pandemic as an excuse to fire their long-term workforce, roll back wages, and eliminate pension and benefits. Hotel workers launched the BC Unequal Women campaign to call attention to the hotel industry’s attack on jobs predominantly held by women, especially racialized women. Hotel workers urged Council to pass the motion and support those hardest hit by the pandemic.

The Vancouver City Council sent a strong message today that hotel workers deserve to return to their pre-pandemic jobs when business recovers. All levels of government should be doing more to ensure that women and racialized people don’t get left behind in the COVID-19 recovery. That’s why I’m calling on other political leaders to join us to make sure hotel workers do not lose their livelihoods because of the pandemic,” said Vancouver City Councillor Jean Swanson who sponsored the motion.

“I’m thrilled that Vancouver City Council did the right thing and supported BC’s unequal women. At a time when hotels are using the pandemic to fire long-time workers, we need our political leaders to do more to protect our livelihoods during the COVID-19 recovery.” said Naden Abenes, a room attendant of Hyatt Regency Vancouver for 13 years and a Vancouver resident.

At a time when the province is providing over $130 million in new money to aid economic recovery in the tourism sector, hotels across Vancouver such as Pan Pacific Hotel at Canada Place and Fairmont Waterfront are using the pandemic to terminate long-term workers and take back economic gains made by women and people of colour who have long served the hotel. Hotel workers are urging elected officials at all levels of government to do more to support economically vulnerable workers hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis.

#BCUnequalWomen

https://www.bcunequalwomen.org/bc-travel-alert/

CONTACT: Stephanie Fung, [email protected], 604-928-7356; 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.

Press Release: Workers Ask When Federal Government Plans to Stop Using Quarantine Hotel that Fired Staff, Faces Human Rights Complaint

‘How much has the government spent on this hotel while women like me are treated like we’re disposable?’

Vancouver, BC – Workers told the Standing Committee on Health yesterday that a federal quarantine hotel fired most of its female staff on the government’s watch, and more women could lose their jobs if the government fails to act. The hotel, Pacific Gateway at Vancouver International Airport, recently terminated over 140 long-term staff, primarily impacting women – many of whom are racialized.

“I was terminated last month along with many of my co-workers.  The hotel fired 90% of our housekeeping staff. Most of us are women who have worked there for decades. There’s no reason why we should lose our jobs during a temporary pandemic,” said Kiran Dhillon, a room attendant who had worked at the hotel for seventeen years.

A human rights complaint over sex and racial discrimination was filed against the hotel this month alleging women, particularly racialized women, have been disproportionately targeted for terminations while men’s jobs were more likely to be protected.  So far, the hotel has terminated 74% of its female employees since February 2021.

“Prime Minister Trudeau promised us a feminist recovery, but women are bearing the brunt of firings at Pacific Gateway on the government’s watch.  How much has the government spent on this hotel while women like me are treated like we’re disposable?  I am a single mom raising two children.  I expected to go back to my job when it was time,” said Elisa Cardona, who worked at Pacific Gateway for seven years as a hostess and server.

After workers testified, opposition critics on the committee questioned Ian Stewart, President of the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), about the situation at the hotel and how long the government plans to continue its hotel quarantine program.  Stewart would not say how long the federal government intends to continue with the program.  When asked by NDP MP Don Davies whether PHAC would provide a copy of the government contract with Pacific Gateway to the Health Committee, Stewart said they would look into it.

Pacific Gateway is one of the original sites taken over by the federal government last year to quarantine travelers.  Pacific Gateway workers, represented by UNITE HERE Local 40, went on strike on May 3, 2021 over hotel firings and drastic economic rollbacks.  Workers have asked to return to their jobs after the federal quarantine ends and when the work becomes available again.  The hotel has refused.

To view hotel workers’ testimony, go to:  https://rb.gy/x5npkk

To view NDP MP Don Davies question to Ian Stewart, President of PHAC, go to: https://rb.gy/w7y8nl

To read Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner’s statement, go to: https://rb.gy/upzksm

To view Conservative MP John Barlow question Ian Stewart, go to: https://rb.gy/i3nfb7

The full committee meeting can be viewed here: https://parlvu.parl.gc.ca/Harmony/en/PowerBrowser/PowerBrowserV2/20210607/-1/35650?Language=English&Stream=Video

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 For more information, contact: Michelle Travis, [email protected], 778-960-9785.