For immediate release
June 3, 2010
TORONTO–Workers at 32 Toronto and area hotels have overwhelmingly given strike authorization to stop declining working conditions and other draconian measures they say are plunging them into precarious work and reducing the quality of service to hotel guests. With most hotel contracts having expired by February 2010, the votes authorizing strike action by upwards to 5,500 workers are being conducted just prior to the G20 summit, the G20 alternative civil society’s People’s Summit, and a summer tourism season on the rebound after the 2008 recession.
"Many of us are immigrants, women and workers of colour and we have fought hard to lift ourselves out of poverty. Yet the hotels are trying to undo all that by continuing to cut hours and service levels as if they’re still in deep recession, which they aren’t," said Cicely Phillips, a room attendant at the Fairmont Royal York and Vice President of UNITE HERE Local 75 which represents hotel workers. "These global giants are reporting profitable years in 2010 and into the future. As the people who make these hotels work, we want to share in that economic recovery. We refuse to have the hotels ‘lock in the recession’ for workers."
Many hotels have shortened shifts, introduced split shifts (e.g. a breakfast and dinner shift with no pay in between), brought in ‘beck and call’ hyper-flexible scheduling and increased the use of part-timers, all of which have caused workers to lose income and benefits. Other schemes, such as the ‘fake green choice’ program at Toronto Sheraton, purport to help guests save the environment but are intended to reduce housekeeping services and room attendants. "How can you get a second job or raise a family in dignity and security with these types of draconian measures," added Phillips.
At age 67, Verna McNeill is still working as a room attendant at Travelodge because she can’t afford to retire. "I used to joke that I’d still be working at age 80- now it’s no joke," says McNeill. "Every hotel should create a better pension fund for its employees. I may not see it in my lifetime but we’re bargaining for a pension plan for the future." Health and safety issues are also a key aspect in current negotiations. "When you get injured, you’re just told that you’re not needed anymore," adds Phillips. "In almost every instance of an injury, the union has to fight for the worker to be accommodated with other duties."
Saleh Abdel-Aziz, First Cook at the Sheraton Centre, worries about the de-skilling of jobs and decline in guest services because of increased contracting out. "We’ve got trucks bringing in pre-cooked roasts and poultry, soup-in-a-bag, pre-chopped vegetables and off-site baked goods in many of our top hotel kitchens," he says. "These are large global companies who are relentlessly pursuing the short-term bottom line. They don’t care about income security for their workers. And we don’t want to be made to compromise quality and service for guests because Toronto’s hospitality industry is just too important for this city’s economy."
Over one-third of workers bargaining this year in Toronto work at hotels owned or operated by affiliates of the Westmont Group, one of the world’s largest private hotel companies controlled by the Mangalji family. Another 30 per cent are bargaining with the Starwood and Delta chains.
"In Toronto, these hotel workers have led the struggle for good jobs for many low wage earners and families, many of whom are immigrants, women and people of colour," said John Campey, Executive Director of the Community Social Planning Council of Toronto. "If hotel work continues its slide into precarious work, real incomes for hotel workers will plummet and families will struggle. If hotel workers succeed in protecting full-time, permanent jobs, they will be contributing to the economic recovery."
UNITE HERE estimates that agreements reached with hotels in 2006-2007 have so far put an additional $70 million into Toronto’s communities and vastly expanded the TTC’s employer-subsidized transit programs with the participation of over a dozen large hotels. Along with pushing to raise standards of living, unions in Canada are the second biggest source of group business for hotels in Canada, next to governments. "We have significant economic clout if the hotels persist in low road practices that lower living and working standards," said Ken Coran, President of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF). "Customers and hotel workers alike need to see the benefits of the ongoing economic recovery. The hotels have an opportunity to take the high road and build an economy based on skills, innovation and sustainability."
Local 75 represents over 7000 hotel, hospitality and gaming workers in the Greater Toronto Area. For more information, please visit www.uniteherelocal75.org.