On Thursday, 22nd July, over 600 hotel workers and supporters demonstrated in front of the Hyatt Regency hotel in Vancouver, shutting down Burrard Street during rush hour. It was organized by UNITE HERE, the union that represents 1,600 workers at four major hotels in Vancouver that are currently in contract negotiations—the Westin Bayshore, Hyatt, Four Seasons, and the Renaissance. The demonstration was co-ordinated with protests in 15 other cities across North America, from Toronto to San Francisco, to fight back against the attacks on hotel workers from the billion-dollar Hyatt Corporation. In Pittsburgh, 16 hotel workers were arrested by police and given citations for obstructing traffic.
At the Vancouver District Labour Council meeting the day before, several hotel workers came to tell their story about why they’re fighting. The first woman told us of her story of immigrating to Canada for a better life after surviving the purges of the Cultural Revolution in China. She has since struggled to make ends meet being a single mother taking care of a child with special needs. After securing a job at the world-renowned Hyatt, she thought her ordeal was finally over. However, she has faced even further hardships caused by jobs stress and workplace bullying.
The Hyatt has used the recession as an excuse to lay off workers and increase the workload on the remaining workforce, even as their profits continue to rise. The Vancouver hotel workers recently had their quota of the number of rooms they need to clean increased to 15, and management is pushing to increase it further. She said the workers are forced to work through all their breaks to meet their quota; at the end of the day, many have to take painkillers to cope with the pain and stress from the hard repetitive work. A second employee said that she has developed asthma from the cleaning chemicals the workers are forced to use to clean the bathrooms, and she has only been working at the hotel for two years! Now, the hotel management is trying to get rid of some of the workers’ health benefits in the current round of negotiations.
The majority of these hotel workers are women and new immigrants with limited English skills—some of the most vulnerable people in society. Speaking to some of the workers who are currently on the bargaining committee, it seems that there is a high likelihood of a strike. Judging from the high spirits, sense of militancy, and high level of organization at the solidarity rally, I believe they are more then ready for the upcoming fight.
The labour movement in BC must stand up and show their solidarity with these workers. It immediately comes to mind that the NDP, BC Federation of Labour, and other labour organizations often use these hotels to hold their meetings and annual conventions. As a start, these organizations must call on the hotel managers to stop abusing their workers and give them a fair deal at the bargaining table, or threaten to boycott them and take their millions of dollars in business elsewhere. A banner at the rally had the old but timeless message, “An Injury To One Is An Injury To All!” There will no doubt that there will be other rallies in the near future. The leaders of the labour movement need to encourage all workers to get involved as the fight against the bosses is a struggle that unites us all.