PARDEEP THANDI IS COLLATERAL DAMAGE in our covid wars. So are over 140 other UNITE HERE Local 40 union members who worked at the Pacific Gateway Hotel in Richmond, B.C. They all got fired. Thanks, in large part, to the indifference of our federal government.
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) took over the hotel in March 2020 under a quarantine order issued by the federal minister of health.
The government brought in Red Cross workers to look after the quarantined hotel guests. Over 140 workers were first laid off and then terminated. The hotel recently reopened to the public. None of the workers got their old jobs back.
“During the height of the pandemic, the owner of Pacific Gateway fired 90% of our housekeeping staff. They threw our experienced staff away like garbage,” said Pardeep Thandi, a long-time hotel housekeeper.
The hotel made clear its intentions to fire all those laid-off more than 12 months —the vast majority of its pre-Covid workforce. The average Pacific Gateway worker has worked at the hotel for more than a decade; some with over forty years of service.
Local 40 members went on strike in May 2021.
Shades of sexism and racism
The federal government extended its contract several times. It took no action when low-income workers, many of them women from the South Asian and Chinese communities, became covid fodder.
“Prime Minster Trudeau, I was fired this past weekend after 27 years of service. Is this what you call a feminist recovery?, asked Pardeep Thandi, a room attendant who worked at the hotel for 27 years until she was permanently laid-off.
“Pacific Gateway is outright attacking women... You said you would prioritize women in Canada’s economic recovery—but you’ve failed us. That’s why I’m on the picket line today with women like me. We’re not going to give up on everything we worked so hard for.”
Local 40 said the hotel was planning to use the temporary COVID-19 crisis to propose permanent changes to undermine job security and make the work more precarious. The employer wants a 7-year contract that would reduce many workers’ hourly pay to minimum wage. That would mean pay cuts of as much as $2.00 to $6.50/hour for servers, hostesses, baristas, dishwashers, and others.
The union also claims the employer wants to eliminate workers’ current union health and pension benefits, force them to share tips with management, allow for subcontracting and make changes that would allow the hotel to circumvent overtime, eliminate paid time off and severance, among other cuts.
The federal government finally pulled out of Pacific Gateway to relocate in another Richmond area hotel in January citing concerns over the hotel’s treatment of workers.
A PHAC statement said, “we have expressed our disappointment with Pacific Gateway and their treatment of their unionized workforce throughout these challenging times.”
“Finally, the federal government has heard our calls to move out of Pacific Gateway,” said Jillian Louie, a former Pacific Gateway server.
Human rights complaint
Kiranjit Dhillon, who worked as a housekeeper in the hotel for 17 years, filed a human rights complaint on behalf of herself and the 88 other women fired by the hotel.
“What my hotel did to me and my co-workers was racist and sexist. The Pacific Gateway has taken advantage of the pandemic to get rid of long-term women workers – many of us women who immigrated to Canada. “We made this hotel successful.”
Local 40 is urging prospective customers to boycott Pacific Gateway.
The B.C. Federation of Labour and the Canadian Labour Congress have urged affiliates and the traveling public to not do business with the hotel.
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