‘One day longer’: Locked out Hilton Metrotown workers mark a year on the picket line
Dozens of workers at Hilton Metrotown were locked out of their jobs on April 15, 2021. Nearly 100 others were terminated. And since then, Metrotown residents will have seen the workers picketing outside the hotel in rain, shine, or hail, in BC’s longest ever hotel lockout dispute.
For more than 365 days, a group of locked out workers have stood on the steps of the Burnaby hotel they’ve called their workplace—some for more than 20 years—and demanded they be allowed to return to work.
After weeks on a partial strike notice since last February, dozens of workers at Hilton Metrotown were locked out of their jobs on April 15, 2021. Nearly 100 others were terminated. Most of them worked in housekeeping, food services, or at the front desk, and hospitality workers’ union Unite Here Local 40 says many of them are Burnaby residents and women of colour.
And since then, Metrotown residents will have seen the workers picketing outside the hotel in rain, shine, or hail, in BC’s longest ever hotel lockout dispute.
A special rally to mark the year that’s passed was held last Thursday, with hundreds of hotel staff and their supporters in attendance—including Burnaby mayor Mike Hurley, other elected officials, and allies from other unions.
Unite Here Local 40 says the hotel (which is a franchise, and not owned by the Hilton brand) is taking advantage of the pandemic to stop paying long-term workers the wages they deserve and hire new staff at a lower rate.
Banquet server Angelica Hernandez, who’s been employed at Hilton Metrotown for more than two decades, told Burnaby Beacon that while it’s been a long year, the workers plan on picketing for as long as it takes.
“We know our value, and we want them to know how valuable we are,” Hernandez said.
Over the past year, the Beacon has spoken with several locked out workers at the hotel who say a lack of respect from management is at the core of the labour dispute. While employees were told through the course of their work that they were all a family at Hilton Metrotown, they feel as if they’re not being treated that way.
“We have been called twice for negotiation. And their proposal is to roll back salary. They want to pay us less. … It’s insulting, it’s completely ignorant,” Hernandez said.
“When they offered the reduced salary, and cut the hours for housekeeping, which means increasing the load of work and basically being on call—when they give us their insulting proposal, we decided that it is necessary to stay longer.”
Other times, members say, management has told the union that workers can come back to work only if they give up some benefits, including medical, and if the hotel will be allowed to replace more experienced workers with newer hires.
While the locked out workers don’t feel as if management truly thinks of them as a family, many of the workers feel that way about their colleagues. They’ve worked late nights, early mornings, and big events together—from weddings to the Olympics to FIFA games to busy tourism seasons.
They attribute the financial success of the hotel to their own hard work over the years, and they believe that should be acknowledged by management.
“It’s really unfair. It’s not the way that an employer or a co-owner of a big business should treat their staff. Because at the end, we are the ones that build up his success, his business in getting money in the bank account,” Hernandez said last week.
The movement has received support from Burnaby’s mayor and council, who last year wrote to Hilton Metrotown general manager Chris Perna imploring him to stop treating staff as “disposable” and passed a motion pledging not to patronize the hotel until the labour dispute was resolved.
Last year, 12 major BC unions said they would boycott the hotel until the end of 2022 and said they would not hold any of their usual events there until staff were brought back to work. Lufthansa crew members, meanwhile, stopped using the hotel for crew accommodations to avoid crossing the picket line.
Unite Here Local 40 claims that Hilton Metrotown has lost $2 million in revenue from union customers as a result.
Local MLAs and MPs have also shown support for the union members. New Westminster-Burnaby NDP MP Peter Julian stopped by the picket line last week, as did federal NDP leader and Burnaby South MP Jagmeet Singh.
With most pandemic restrictions lifted across the country and travel being encouraged once more, Metro Vancouver is expecting a busy tourism season ahead—and Hernandez said it’s in Hilton Metrotown’s best interest to welcome guests to a fully staffed hotel.
“Every hotel in Vancouver is already busy. Some are almost full-house. So we are thinking that if the employers are smart enough, and they see that they can have a good start after the pandemic is almost over. If they’re smart enough they can call us and say, ‘You know what? Let’s get back to work.’ Give us what we deserve,” she said.
“So yes, the season is coming by. And we are hoping that this guy is smart enough to get back in business in a good relationship with us, his loyal workers.”