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Unifor aims to negotiate template contract with B.C. hotels

Union has started bargaining with Fairmont Empress Hotel
Victoria's Fairmont Empress Hotel is one of B.C.'s iconic structures

Canada’s largest private-sector union has started a round of talks that it hopes will spawn an agreement that can be used as a template for contracts at a series of B.C. hotels. 

Initial Unifor discussions with representatives from the Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria took place Jan. 23 and Feb. 21, with future meetings set for Feb. 28, and March 6 through 8. 

Unifor’s western regional director Gavin McGarrigle told BIV that he expects bargaining sessions to take place later this year with representatives at other hotels, such as the:

• Fairmont Hotel Vancouver;
• Coast Coal Harbour; and
• Sheraton Vancouver Guildford in Surrey.

He said his union also represents workers at the Hotel Grand Pacific in Victoria, as well as smaller hotels in Richmond, Port Alberni and Campbell River.

Countrywide, Unifor represents more than 8,000 workers in the hotel sector.

“The Fairmont Empress and the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver are two of the premier hotels in the country, and the Fairmont brand is one of the premier brands,” he said. “Historically, we've had industry-leading agreements in both of those hotels.”

The collective agreement at the Fairmont Empress Hotel expires on March 1, whereas the contract for workers at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver runs through July 31. 

McGarrigle said there needs to be sufficient compensation and benefits outlined in union contracts given the challenges that the industry faces in attracting workers. 

“We're finding that there needs to be a lot of changes [to union contracts] to attract and retain staff,” he said. 

He estimated that pre-pandemic the Fairmont Empress Hotel had about 450 employees on its payroll. Hundreds of those have left their jobs and about 200 new workers have been hired to replace them, he said.

Many more workers are needed, McGarrigle said, adding that housekeeping staff are in particularly high demand. 

So-called “room attendants” at the Fairmont Empress Hotel start at $25.01 per hour, while assistant housekeepers start at $25.38 per hour, and senior assistant housekeepers start at $26.09 per hour. 

McGarrigle would not say what range of pay increases he is looking for, as he wants to keep that information contained to those at the bargaining table. 

He anticipates that whatever contract gets hammered out at the Fairmont Empress Hotel, it will be similar to the one at the Hotel Vancouver even though those two properties have different owners. 

“The Fairmont maintains standards across its hotels, regardless of who actually owns the properties,” he said. “There's always slight changes from property to property, but certainly there will be the same broad brushstrokes in the agreements.”

Fairmont Empress Hotel owner Nat Bosa told BIV that he gets final say on his hotel’s contract but that he leaves the negotiations up to the Fairmont bargaining team. 

“We stay out of it,” he said. “We understand that they are negotiating in good faith right now, and hopefully they'll find a resolution that works for everybody.”

Bosa said that he believes that workers at his hotel are the best paid among workers at large hotels in the area.

He said that his hotel suffered deep losses in 2020 and 2021. In 2022, it also lost money.

“I wouldn't have an issue with showing them the books,” he said. “If they want to see the books, I’ll show them the books.”

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