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Richmond hotel received $33 million in quarantine payments, according to fired workers' union

143 full-time employees were laid off at the Pacific Gateway, while hotel was "fully-booked" by federal government
Workers at the Pacific Gateway Hotel on Cessna Drive in Richmond formed many picket lines and protests during the pandemic

A Richmond hotel which laid off 143 full-time workers during the pandemic may have pocketed more than $33 million in federal government quarantine hand-outs.

According to the former employees’ union, the Pacific Gateway Hotel, on Cessna Drive near YVR, could have received around $52,000 a day during the 21 months it was contracted to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) to temporarily house quarantined travellers.

That totals to $33.6 million to look after just 2,204 travellers during the 21 months, with all of the hotel’s 380 rooms designated for quarantine purposes in that time period.

Some of the months, for example in September and October 2021, there were just 11 and four travellers quarantined at the hotel, with all 380 rooms designated and paid for by PHAC.

The room occupancy figures were uncovered last year by Vancouver Kingsway NDP MP Don Davies, via an order paper request to the federal government.

The workers’ union, Unite Here Local 40, estimated the payouts to the hotel after Calgary Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner this week revealed that PHAC had spent more than $450,000, per person, to house just 15 people at the Westin Calgary, which has the same owners as the Pacific Gateway – the PHI Hotel Group.

How does hotel justify lay-offs when receiving millions: Travis

“The PHI Hotel Group basically received a windfall at two hotels – and no hotel enjoys 100 per cent occupancy year-round, even in a good year,” Unite Here’s Michelle Travis told the Richmond News.

“We’re just trying to figure how much the government was spending at (the Pacific Gateway), while the hotel was trying to bust out the union members on the government’s dime. It’s so much money.

“How do they justify terminating the bulk of their workforce, while getting all these millions from the government? There was absolutely no reason they couldn’t agree to bring these workers back.”

Travis said the union arrived at the numbers based on workers telling them the government rate was around $139 a night in March 2020. 

Almost a year ago to the day, the PHAC terminated its quarantine contract with the Pacific Gateway, citing the “treatment of unionized workers” as the reason.

Travis said she filed a freedom of information (FOI) request in the fall of 2021 in an effort to find out how much government money was going to the hotel.

“I got a reply, asking if I needed help paring down the request, but that was it, nothing else,” she said.

“There are so many questions still unanswered. How did they choose this hotel? How much money did they actually give to the hotel? There’s no transparency here.

“(PHAC) was clearly aware of the way (the hotel) was treating these long-term workers.

“And then there’s this wage subsidy. We don’t know how much was given to the hotel. Did they really need that on top of the quarantine payments? The hotel should disclose how much it received.”

Government payouts being used to renovate: Union

Travis said she understands that the hotel owners, PHI, are turning the Pacific Gateway into a Radisson.

“They’re renovating the rooms I believe…they’ve clearly been raking in the money,” she added.

In the meantime, Travis said the union has reached out to Rempel Garner’s office, to see if she knows more details about government payments to the Pacific Gateway.

The News has reached out to Rempel Garner’s office for comment and the PHAC for details of the quarantine payments.

Neither replied at the time of publication.

Over the last three years or so, the News has never received a reply to requests for comment by the PHI Hotel Group, including this week.

The Liberal MP for Richmond Centre – Wilson Miao – was also asked to intervene last year by the union on behalf of the workers.

He never responded to the union, or to the News’ requests for comment last year.

The PHAC is known to have 38 designated quarantine facilities (DQFs) at 14 sites nationwide.

In total, $388.7 million was spent on DQFs between April 2020 to December 2022, breaking out to $158.5 million in fiscal year 2020/21, $153 million in 2021/22, and $77.2 million in 2022/23.