Locked out workers picket outside Hilton Metrotown on MacKay Ave in Burnaby. (Srushti Gangdev / Burnaby Beacon)

Metrotown Hilton workers reject arbitration offer, opt for mediation

Workers at the Hilton Vancouver Metrotown hotel in Burnaby rejected an offer of binding arbitration to resolve their yearlong dispute.

By Dustin Godfrey | April 21, 2022 |5:00 am

Members of Unite Here! Local 40 declined an offer by Hilton Vancouver Metrotown hotel management to enter legally binding arbitration to put an end to the yearlong labour dispute.

Management from the Hilton Vancouver Metrotown (HVM) published a news release on Monday calling the labour dispute potentially “the longest hotel strike in Canadian history.”

“In an effort to break the bargaining impasse, HVM has offered to resolve the dispute through binding arbitration. HVM is comfortable having a neutral mediator/arbitrator review both sides’ position[s] and settle the collective agreement by determining what is fair and reasonable,” management said.

“We have suggested that, upon agreement to the binding arbitration process, the labour dispute would end.”

The hotel’s management called it the “most sensible path forward to bring closure to this long dispute,” noting that the two parties participated in mediation in September and October last year, “but limited progress was made at that time.”

Unite Here! Local 40’s Stephanie Fung told Burnaby Beacon in an interview on Tuesday that workers had received the offer from management and were mulling it among themselves. However, later that day, the hotel said in an email that the workers had rejected that offer, something Fung confirmed on Wednesday.

Fung said the employees had decided they would like to return to the mediation table and try to strike a deal there instead. She did not know of any proposed dates for returning to the mediators.

A ‘fair and meaningful’ proposal

Further mediation was scheduled for March, but management said the union “unilaterally cancelled those dates two days before it was scheduled to take place.”

Asked in an interview with Burnaby Beacon on Tuesday about the union’s reasoning for cancelling the March meeting, Fung said they are working with the mediator.

“We are ready to talk to them whenever they have meaningful proposals to provide. If they are ready to bargain in good faith, then we’ll come to the table,” Fung said.

Pressed on the issue, Fung said the union did not believe the hotel had put forward meaningful proposals in March.

Scott de Savoye, the hotel’s new general manager, declined an interview request until the hotel hears from the union on its arbitration proposal.

But in response to emailed questions, de Savoye argued that the hotel has put forward “a fair and meaningful proposal that exceeds a settlement the union reached last fall with a number of other hotels.”

“We are prepared to have a neutral arbitrator determine what a reasonable settlement would be. The union is not,” Savoye said.

The hotel also sought to counter what it called misinformation about the labour dispute.

The hotel acknowledged that a “significant number” of employees were laid off long enough to have their employment, and therefore seniority rights, expire.

The firing of those employees has been a talking point from the union through much of the labour dispute, but hotel management said they agreed six months ago to the request to have those employees’ positions and seniority reinstated. And Fung acknowledged that change in position from the hotel.

“And while we were making progress on this issue, on bringing these workers back, at the same time, the hotel wanted to make changes that would eliminate housekeeping and other jobs,” Fung said.

“So that issue isn’t fully resolved yet. So workers, when they go back, they want to make sure that they will have job security. … For housekeepers, it really means that there will be no elimination of daily room cleaning.”

What’s in a name?

But perhaps the biggest point of contention, and one that both parties appear to have contradicting facts about, is whether the labour dispute is a strike or a lockout.

“The lockout was conditioned because workers went on limited job action, and the hotel said, ‘Look, we invite you to come back to work only if you’re willing to give up union health and pension benefits, paid time off, workload protections that protect health and safety,’” Fung said.

“Workers felt that’s an impossible choice for them to make, so they’re locked out.”

But in its news release, Hilton Metrotown management said it was “simply not accurate” to say the union is locked out.

“Our employees are free to return to work anytime. The union is on strike. There is no lockout,” the hotel said.

De Savoye elaborated, saying a return to work did not come with any conditions.

“Employees have been free to work since the start of the dispute under the terms of the expired collective agreement,” he said.

“The union is asking them/instructing them not to go to work. Any claim that the work is being offered under different terms than the collective agreement is simply not true.”

But Fung said the Hilton hasn’t reached out to the union with that offer.

As for who initiated the work stoppage, de Savoye was not at the hotel in February 2021, but he noted a strike vote was approved by members at that time.

However, the union said it was only on a “limited job action” after that vote—not an actual strike.

“It’s a lockout because workers went on limited job action before the hotel locked them out. And this company imposed a lockout a year ago after firing 97 of their workers,” Fung said.

Fung said workers were locked out by the Hilton on April 15, but did not have the original lockout notice provided to employees.

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Dustin Godfrey

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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