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Richmond quarantine hotel workers walk out on strike

According to the workers' union, 32 employees at the Pacific Gateway near YVR walked out Monday morning

Thirty-two workers at a federal COVID-19 quarantine hotel in Richmond have gone on strike Monday morning in protest over what their union calls “mass firings” and “wage rollbacks.”

The Pacific Gateway employees, according to their union – Unite Here Local 40 – walked out at 5 a.m.

The Cessna Drive hotel, close to YVR, has been used by the federal government for the last year or so to quarantine passengers arriving at the airport.

According to the union, the hotel has already terminated 103 workers, 42 of them this weekend, with nearly two-thirds of those laid off being women.

Many of them had been working at the hotel for decades and had been on temporary leave since the start of the pandemic.

The union has told how workers were displaced when the federal government took over the hotel last year under a quarantine order and brought in the Red Cross to perform their duties.

A spokesperson for Hospitality Industrial Relations (HIR), which represents the hotel, said Pacific Gateway remains open, despite the picket line.

“The current collective agreement in place between PGH and the union expired in 2018. Negotiations have been stalled since February, and we are disappointed that the union has chosen to now strike instead of negotiating further,” added the spokesperson.

“The employer has offered bargaining dates to the union, only to have them rejected. No lockout notice has been issued at this hotel and we look forward to a resumption of bargaining.”

The HIR spokesperson said no workers at the hotel have been “fired” but there “have been permanent layoffs – as mandated in the collective agreement – due to the pandemic’s impact on the entire hotel sector over the past year. Employees who worked at PGH during the pandemic are not subject to permanent layoffs.”

According to the union, the federal government has extended its contract several times and has “looked the other way as hard-hit workers, many of them women from the South Asian and Chinese communities, pay the price.”

One of the workers laid off on the weekend was Pardeep Thandi, a room attendant who served the hotel for 27 years.

“Prime Minster Trudeau, I was fired this past weekend after 27 years of service. Is this what you call a feminist recovery? Thandi said in a news release.

“I have three girls - one in Grade 5, one in high school, and another in college. I raised them on this job.

“Pacific Gateway is outright attacking women and our federal government is doing nothing to stop it. You said you would prioritize women in Canada's economic recovery — but you've failed us.

“That's why I'm on the picket line today with women like me. We're not going to give up on everything we worked so hard for.”

The union said hotel management is using the COVID-19 crisis to propose permanent changes to “undermine job security and make the work more precarious.

“The employer wants a 7-year contract that would reduce many workers’ hourly pay to minimum wage.

“That would mean as much as $2.00 to $6.50/hour less for servers, hostesses, baristas, dishwashers, and others. The employer also wants to eliminate workers’ current union health and pension benefits, force them to share tips with management, allow for subcontracting and make changes that would allow the hotel to circumvent overtime, eliminate paid time off and severance, among other cuts.”

The hotel’s demands, say the union, are very similar to those made by Hilton Metrotown which locked out its hotel staff earlier this month.

Both hotels are represented by Hospitality Industrial Relations (HIR), which issued a lockout notice last week to 1,200 hospitality workers who work at 32 other hotels, motels, and liquor establishments across British Columbia.

The Richmond News has reached out to the Pacific Gateway Hotel for comment.

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