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Striking Sheraton YVR workers going to Burnaby council in February

The unionized employees, who are in the seventh month of their strike, will be presenting at Burnaby City Council and requesting a boycott of the Vancouver airport hotel

Union representatives of more than 200 workers at the Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel will present at Burnaby City Council’s Feb. 12 meeting. A delegation from UNITE HERE Local 40 union will present a motion to council requesting that Burnaby boycott the Sheraton YVR hotel, and avoid spending taxpayer money on events or conferences there. A union delegation made the same request of Richmond City Council on Jan. 15; in the past, Richmond has boycotted  other hotels with striking workers. 

Striking Sheraton YVR workers. Photo: Sharan Pawa.

“We’ve seen at our union that when we have the support of politicians, city councils and other labour allies, it really helps the employer take our fight seriously, and address this labour dispute,” said Sharan Pawa, communications specialist at Local 40. 

Unionized workers at Sheraton YVR walked out of work and went on strike in early June 2023, and while some workers crossed the picket line, the majority continued the strike. According to Pawa, many Sheraton YVR workers live in Burnaby, and the strike is affecting the tourism industry in the Lower Mainland. 

The hotel staff are demanding an increase in wages to bring them closer to the Lower Mainland living wage of $25.68 per hour. Most wages at the hotel range from $16 to $22 an hour. According to Pawa, some members have worked at the Sheraton for as long as 30 years and are still making below the living wage, which makes it difficult for them to provide for their children and pay their bills. 

“One of our members has been a banquet server at the Sheraton for about six years, and she’s only earning 20 cents above minimum wage,” Pawa said. 

More than 200 workers walked out last June, but the regular picket line usually has up to 100 people in front of the hotel. On Jan. 15, a delegation went to Richmond City Council to request a boycott of the Sheraton and its sister hotels, the Hilton and Marriott YVR hotels, all operated by the same company. Since the BC Labour Board considers them a shared site, striking workers are also allowed to picket in front of the other hotels. “We actually have our picket line extending all the way around the block,” Pawa said. 

Striking Sheraton YVR employees. Photo: Sharan Pawa

Seven months on strike have taken a toll on the workers and their families, with many workers finding additional jobs or surviving on the picket pay they receive from the union. Some have even crossed the picket line to return to work. 

“It is tough for the workers. Of course, they do want to go back to work, earn a living wage, have one job, have their stable hours, and put an end to this dispute,” Pawa told the Beacon “But the strike has dragged on for a very long time, and they’re willing to keep fighting until they get the wages they deserve from this employer.” 

The strike is also taking a toll on the hotel and its business. To keep operations running, the hotel has resorted to making senior employees and managerial staff do the jobs of some striking workers. 

“We know they’re losing a lot of business, and we really want the strike to end soon because the company’s losing business, and the workers are still on strike, struggling to get by,” Pawa said.“They just want to go to work and do their jobs and make that hotel really successful and contribute to Richmond’s economy, and the tourism economy in Metro Vancouver.” 

According to a 2023 survey the union conducted, 89% of hotel workers in the Metro Vancouver area reported they had to give up essentials to survive, with 46% of respondents saying they had to give up fresh food, 58% cutting out clothes or shoes, and 28% giving up dental or medical essentials. The Lower Mainland’s 2023 living wage is $25.68, according to the Living Wage for Families campaign, which is the amount two adults working full-time would need to support a family of two adults and two children without the need for additional working hours or sacrifice on essentials. 

This piece was made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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