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'Unfair and shameful': Hilton Metrotown workers, unions hold sit-in as lockout continues

Hundreds took to downtown Burnaby streets in support of locked-out hotel workers

Traffic was brought to a halt in downtown Burnaby during rush hour today (Aug. 5) as supporters and workers voiced their displeasure at Hilton Metrotown management, with what the representing union insists is a lockout of hotel employees. 

At roughly 5 p.m. this afternoon, hundreds blocked the intersection of Kingsway and Willingdon with sounds of honking cars driving by in solidarity with hospitality workers. 

UNITE HERE Local 40 says workers — mostly women — have now been without their jobs for 112 days.

The location locked out room attendants, front desk agents, banquet, and kitchen staff on April 16 after terminating 97 long-term staff, impacting at least 50 workers who live in Burnaby — a move the union has called "mass firings" amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In June, several unions threatened to boycott the hotel and pull $2 million in business next year if no agreement was reached by the end of the month, in addition to money already lost in 2021. 

UNITE HERE Local 40 then started a public petition in July, calling on any supporters to also boycott the hotel over unfair treatment of locked-out employees. 

"This lockout has dragged on for far too long," UNITE HERE Local 40 President Zailda Chan said to a large crowd gathered in front of the hotel.

"That's why we're here today. To put our bodies on the line. We're taking over the streets today to stop the city in its tracks and we're here to say 'no' to the mistreatment of workers. 

"We're not going to let these hotels get away with pandemic profiteering. No to replacing workers with cheaper hires, no to rolling back wages to minimum wage and eliminating pension and health care benefits. 'No' to that."

Liza Secretaria, a night auditor at the Hilton for 21 years, says she lost her brother and mom within months of each other last year and then was suddenly without a job.

"I love my job because I enjoy talking to people, listening to the stories of my guests and getting to know them," she told the crowd. 

"The pandemic hit British Columbia last March and that's when my life turned upside down. Last August, I lost my mother to cancer, after a few months, my brother died from COVID-19. Then, last April, I was locked out. It's just too much. Losing my mother and my brother, just was very hard."

"What happened at the Hilton Metrotown was just the tip of the iceberg. Women, hotel workers, are hurting over British Columbia. Many women like me, an immigrant, single mom, are hurting because of losing their job because of the pandemic. But that should not be the reason to get rid of us! I urge Hilton to Metrotown to do the right thing, now." 

Prominent union leaders in the province also joined workers and supporters at the sit-in, calling on hotel management to reinstate jobs. 

Teri Mooring showed her solidarity, while also calling on the Hilton Metrotown management to reinstate workers immediately. 

"On behalf of the 47,000 members of the British Columbia Teachers' Federation [BCTF], we support you," the BCTF president said.

"As we've heard, workers at the Metrotown Hilton, along with the Pacific Gateway, are women, are women of colour, are single mothers all trying to support families and we need to support you in this fight. This is not fair. This is not OK. You deserve so much better from the owners of the Hilton. 

"It is not OK. We need to fight this. Hotel owners need to be put on notice: you cannot profit off the backs of women, workers. It is not OK. I'm here today to deliver the strongest possible message. The BC Teachers' Federation stands with all UNITE HERE Local 40 workers. We're here to fight with you. We're standing with you. We aren't going anywhere." 

BC CUPE President Karen Ranalletta warned hotel management they haven't just picked a fight with the currently locked out employees, but with union support across the province and country.

"A hundred and 12 days. A hundred and 12 days of fighting for dignity, fighting for your jobs and fighting for respect. A hundred and 12 days. That is incredibly unfair and shameful. This employer has deep pockets. This employer hates unions. This employer wants more than anything, for you to give up.

"They haven't just picked a fight with the employees here. They've picked a fight with the entire labour movement. When you take on one of us, you take on all of us. You don't take on just us here in British Columbia, you take on everybody across the country. That's not a fight that I'd want to pick." 

With UNITE HERE Local 40 maintaining employees were locked out, Hospitality Industrial Relations (HIR) labour relations consultant Kevin Woolliams, who represents the employer, told Glacier Media last month the situation is a strike.

"The union has refused to set further bargaining dates with the employer," he said. "More than 15 days were offered to the union in May, and the union, as of June 3, has offered no dates in June."

According to UNITE HERE Local 40, 50,000 hospitality workers lost their jobs when the pandemic hit the province in March, with thousands of employees terminated. 

- with files from Chris Campbell, Burnaby NOW, and Glen Korstrom, Business In Vancouver