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thumb-2024-05-03-radisson-blu This article is more than 1 month old
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Three Years on Strike and Counting: Canada’s Longest Active Strike Continues at a Vancouver Hotel

Hotel workers have showed up to the picket line in rain, snow and sun to fight for job security and wages families can live on

Striking workers at a BC hotel commemorated three-years on the pickets with a rally, marking their labour dispute as Canada’s longest ongoing strike.

The strike by Radisson Blu hotel workers is Canada’s longest ongoing strike and longest hotel strike in BC history. The workers at the Radisson Blu, formerly known as the Pacific Gateway Hotel, are fighting for the recall rights of 143 terminated staff, job security and family-supporting wages and benefits. 

On May 3, 2024, the striking workers, represented by Unite Here Local 40, held a mass demonstration in front of the hotel holding signs that read ‘fair contract now’, ‘on strike’ and ‘unite here’ to commemorate 1095 days of being on strike. The rallying workers, supported by labour and community allies across Metro Vancouver, called on the public to boycott the luxury hotel.

Recall rights allow laid-off workers to return to their jobs if work becomes available within a given time frame. The Radisson Blu workers were hoping to return to their jobs post-pandemic, but their contract only provided them with recall rights for one year and the hotel chose to terminate them instead.

Photo: Megavarshini G. Somasundaram (PressProgress)

“I am here five hours a day and four days a week. It’s been three years. I cannot settle for anything less,” Marlyn, one of the striking Radisson Blu workers, told PressProgress.

Marlyn has spent nearly four decades—starting as a room attendant and now becoming a supervisor—working at the hotel, and May 7, 2024, marks her 45th work anniversary. She is one of the several workers who walked out in solidarity to support her co-workers who have been laid off.

“We haven’t been given a raise since 2018. I am a single woman and a cancer survivor, and living is hard. I recently went through cataract surgery. I tried getting a job somewhere else and considering my medical conditions, people did not want to hire me. I have been here for all my life and I need them to reach a settlement.”

The luxury hotel is owned by Sukhminder Rai and operated by his PHI Hotel Group. 

The company is being sued for alleged civil fraud and misappropriation of almost $16 million in funds related to its management of the Westin Calgary Airport Hotel when it was used as a federal quarantine site.

Fred, the longest-working employee, who’s been with the hotel since 1973, echoed Marlyn’s thoughts. “I am here to support my colleagues. I will retire once things settle,” he said.

Among the terminated workers, 90 are women, and of that group, 69% are women of colour. For a lot of Fred’s colleagues, many immigrant women, it’s the only place in Canada they’ve ever worked. The women are close to their retirement age and are worried about their job prospects elsewhere. 

“Since moving to Canada, I have been housekeeping for this hotel and it’s been 44 years, including the time I have spent at the picket line. My husband passed away a year ago. I am managing my living expenses with the compensation the union is giving us. I need to start working immediately as everything is expensive,” Yankatamma Reddy, one of the striking workers and an immigrant woman from India, told PressProgress.

“When we were working at the hotel, they were benefiting, but what’s happening now? They need us to go back to being fully operational.”

Photo: Megavarshini G. Somasundaram (PressProgress)

The 400-room hotel is undergoing renovations and is unable to run at full capacity. 

“The hotel has opened about a third of their rooms. They are operating with a small group of managers and a skeleton crew inside,” Michelle Travis, a spokesperson for Unite Here Local 40, told PressProgress

“There’s no way they can staff a 400-room hotel.”

Travis said that starting last summer, they noticed the hotel using replacement workers. The union took the hotel to the BC Labour Relations Board three times for trying to use replacement workers.

“We got consent awards for the prior cases where the hotel agreed not to use impermissible replacement workers to do bargaining unit work. Every time we catch them, they stop for a while and then start again,” Travis said.

The workers are determined to continue the strike until they reach an agreement. Travis said that though some workers have gotten other jobs to sustain a living, they still do picket shifts every week as they ultimately want to return to this hotel. 

“Once we reach a resolution, the workers are willing to leave their current jobs and return to the hotel with strong union jobs, family-supporting wages, and good working conditions—which the owner tried to take away during the pandemic,” Travis told PressProgress.

Photo: Megavarshini G. Somasundaram (PressProgress)

Both parties met at the bargaining table in April and have been negotiating on and off since then. Travis said that the union wanted to ensure job security for the returning workers as the hotel earlier threatened the strikers by saying they would terminate them on their return.

“We have filed an unfair labour practice against the owner and have been waiting on a decision,” Travis said. “At the end of this long and hard strike, we wanted to ensure that workers are not walking backwards on any sort of wage or benefit.”

Travis said that they haven’t necessarily asked and don’t want the government to intervene. However, according to Travis, the historically demanding strike could have been avoided had the provincial government passed the right-to-recall legislation

“We asked the provincial government to consider creating legislation to not terminate workers during the pandemic and recall them immediately. This is something we have seen happen in places like California, the state of Connecticut, and other cities around the U.S. When you reopen, when you recover, you have to bring folks back or give them the right of first return.”

Sussanne Skidmore, president of the BC Federation of Labour, addressing the striking workers in front of the hotel, said, “I am seeing familiar faces. I have stayed here, and you guys took care of me when I was away from my family. It hurts to see all of you in a picket line. We’ve got your back and will not come back to this hotel unless you tell us it is okay.” 

 

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Megavarshini G. Somasundaram
Labour Reporting Intern
Megavarshini G. Somasundaram is PressProgress' 2024 labour reporting intern and a Masters of Journalism student at UBC.

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