Since the Covid-19 pandemic began to impact Canada in March 2020, millions of workers have lost their jobs and livelihoods. This was not an inevitable outcome but rather the result of mismanagement and neglect by the government of Canada that put the interest of corporations and profit above those of human health and needs. For example, the anti-human policies of the government of Canada in response to Covid-19 are exposed by the slow rollout of vaccines and the refusal of the government to deploy rapid testing to keep people safe and contain the pandemic. There has also been a stark inequality in the health and safety services available to people across Canada, significantly impacting Indigenous peoples and people living in rural areas. The Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), a federal program that has now ended, amounted to only $500 a week. The CERB was not available to all workers and not enough to cover the rent/mortgages, food, and transportation costs of many workers and their families.
Workers in the restaurant and hospitality industries and healthcare and childcare have been the most severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Working women in Canada, predominately poor women, people of colour, and immigrants, are the backbone of these industries. Therefore, they have faced the most challenges, including being forced to work in unsafe conditions and suffering job losses. On top of this, women’s unpaid labour increased, as women were often in charge of caring for the health and well-being of their families.
These are many reasons why the women-led struggle of hotel workers at the Metrotown Hilton in Burnaby, Metro Vancouver, Canada, is such an important fight back! For one year, the workers of UNITE HERE Local 40 have been out on the picket lines, defending their dignity and labour rights demanding that Hilton Metrotown give them back their jobs.
UNITE HERE Local 40 Workers Locked Out
On April 15, 2021, workers at the Hilton Metrotown Hotel in Burnaby, BC, were locked out. This attack came just one day after the workers held a one-day strike to protest the firing of almost 100 of their coworkers – most of whom were women. Since that day, the hotel has refused to negotiate with the UNITE HERE Local 40 workers in good faith, calling on them to negotiate twice but offering them lower salaries and other losses to their benefits.
Stephanie Fung, UNITE HERE Local 40 Communications Organizer, explained during an interview with Fire This Time in August 2021, “The main demand is for Hilton Metrotown to bring their long-term women back to their jobs. As business recovers, no one should lose their job just because of a pandemic.
We want to return to our pre-Covid jobs with the same wages, benefits, and pension. No one should get rid of women in this way.”
To justify the firings and the lockout, the hotel has used the excuse of revenue losses during the pandemic. However, as discovered by UNITE HERE, the Hilton Metrotown hotel received recovery grants from the BC government. Despite workers’ demands across the province, the grants are not tied to any guarantee that fired or laid-off workers will get their jobs back. Instead, companies such as the owner of the Hilton Metrotown have taken advantage of anti-worker government policies to continue to rake in profits during the pandemic while workers face the brunt of the hardship.
It is estimated that when the pandemic hit, 50,000 hotel workers in BC alone were laid off. Mass firings of those same workers began in the summer of 2020. When the tourism industry picked up in 2021 and hotels began hiring new staff, it was revealed that hotel owners and management don’t care about the workers who have kept their industry running! Instead, they hired new un-unionized workers with lower wages, no pensions, and fewer rights, and temporary staff with few labour protections.
Women Lead the Way in Struggle Against the Lockout!
Since the lockout, there has been a picket line every single day lining the sidewalk outside of the Metrotown Hilton Hotel. If you walk by any day, you might find drumming or singing and locked-out hotel workers, mostly women from marginalized communities and women of colour, talking to each other and passersby. After one year of being locked out, they are determined to continue their struggle and showing no signs of retreat.
On April 14, 2022, UNITE HERE Local 40 called a rally to draw attention to the one-year anniversary of the continued lockout. At this energetic and determined rally, over 400 people came together. Locked-out hotel workers were joined by hundreds of community members and representatives from other unions and elected officials.
This action was one of many that have taken place in support of the locked-out Hilton Metrotown workers, including a rally in August that had elected leadership of seven public sector unions across BC and Canada, who were all women, as speakers. There have been solidarity rallies held at hotels across Canada also owned by the South Korean firm DSDL Co. Different sectors of the labour movement have also called for a boycott of DSDL Co.-owned hotels, including the BC Federation of Labour. Workers at Lufthansa Airlines have refused to cross the picket line to stay at the hotel.
UNITE LOCAL 40 Workers Are Not Backing Down!
Hilton Metrotown workers are not just fighting back to save their jobs. They are out on the picket lines every day to defend the rights of all workers. As Liza Secretaria, a locked-out Hilton Hotel worker, told Fire This Time in an interview in August 2021, “We are here today to fight, to bring us back to our job, the job we've been working so hard for, for a long time. I've been here in the hotel for 21 years and what the hotel has done to us is just not acceptable. The pandemic should not be the reason to get rid of us, and we are not giving up.”
As Liza explained, “It was April 15 that we were locked out. Since then, we've been standing strong outside together; all the women and workers have become so close. It's amazing. We become even more of a family. And if someone is becoming discouraged, we pull together, you know, we have our strength together, we are one. And women are strong to fight back!”
During the pandemic, major companies across Canada continue to rack in massive profits while laying off and firing millions of workers. The women leaders of the Hilton Metrotown hotel are showing all poor, working, and oppressed people what it means to fight back! We encourage our readers to support the UNITE HERE Local 40 Hilton Metrotown hotel workers and the continued struggle of UNITE HERE Local 40 workers on strike at the Pacific Gateway Hotel at the Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, BC, and the Pan Pacific Hotel in Vancouver, BC. Find more about their struggle at https://www.bcunequalwomen.org
Follow the struggle of BC hotel workers on Twitter: @UniteHere40
Follow Alison on Twitter: @Alisoncolette
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