Union support for BC hotel workers proves union values still alive and well


THERE’S NO GUARANTEE THEY’LL WIN. But that doesn’t matter: not to the 97 hotel workers locked out at the Hilton Metrotown hotel in Burnaby, BC; and not to  all the other unions standing in solidarity with UNITE HERE Local 40.

The hotel fired nearly 100 Metrotown Hilton workers on April 13, including some with 20 years on the job. Their workmates walked off the job in a one-day protest. Hilton locked them all out on April 15.

Solidarity in action

Support for the locked out workers was immediate and continues to be strong and broad:

  • The BC Federation of Labour issued a boycott of the hotel in May

  • Several unions threatened to boycott the hotel and pull $2 million in business, in June

  • Lufthansa agreed to stop crossing the picket line

  • UNITE HERE Local 75 in Toronto visited the hotel’s lender urging the bank to re-examine DSDL, the owner of Hilton Metrotown

  • UNITE HERE Local 5 in Hawaii visited the Honolulu vacation home belonging to the owner of Hilton Metrotown

  • Local 40 started a public petition in July, calling on any supporters to also boycott the hotel

  • On July 13, Local 40 travelled to Edmonton to rally at the Varscona hotel, one of three Edmonton hotels owned by DSDL.

  • The Alberta Federation of Labour issued a boycott deadline of Aug. 8 to the three hotels for DSDL

  • Community groups across the Lower Mainland, and elected officials across municipal, provincial and federal levels of government have indicated support for the workers

Takin’ it to the street

The most public and visible measure of support for the workers came August 5 when hundreds of supporters from other unions, along with striking workers from Pacific Gateway in Richmond and the general public joined hotel housekeepers, front desk agents, and other women hotel workers to shut down the intersection in front of the hotel.

(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.)

Big issue for women leaders

The unprecedented sit-in action brought together women presidents and officers of BC’s major unions, including: BC Teachers’ Federation, Hospital Employees’ Union, CUPE BC, UFCW 1518, BC General Employees’ Union, Union of Postal Workers, BC Federation of Labour, as well the new leadership team of the Canadian Labour Congress.

When the pandemic hit BC in March 2020, 50,000 hospitality workers were laid off. Many thousands were then fired. Most are women and visible minorities.

Baljinder Kahlon, fired housekeeping supervisor at Hilton Metrotown told the August 5 crowd: “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.”

“These workers should be treated like the heroes they are, said Bea Bruske, President of the Canadian Labour Congress.

“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 struggle continues

August 19 was day 126 of the lockout. It was also the day the hotel workers rallied outside the South Korean Consulate in Vancouver, urging the ambassador to press one of the South Korean owners of the hotel to re-hire the workers.

The action follows multi-city actions in Canada and the U.S. Workers and allies recently visited South Korean embassies in Ottawa and Washington D.C., as well as consulates in 10 other cities. They met with consulate and embassy officials, leafletted consulate staff, and demonstrated outside consulate buildings

The struggle continues.

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