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Striking Sheraton YVR workers rally in front of Bridge Studios

The workers, who have been on strike for nine months, protested in front of the studios which have the same owners as the hotel

On Thursday, Mar. 21, Sheraton YVR workers gathered in front of Bridge Studios at 2400 Boundary Rd. in Burnaby to call for wage increases and better benefits. The unionized workers, who have been on strike since June 2023, recently sent a delegation to Burnaby City Council to request council support. Their visit culminated in a letter that Mayor Mike Hurley wrote urging the hotel and studio owners, Larco, to pay workers a living wage. 

“Hotel and hospitality staff deserve a contract that fairly compensates them for their work and one that reflects the reality of the increased cost of living in Metro Vancouver in 2024,” Hurley’s letter said.  

Workers at the Sheraton YVR hotel told the Beacon that the hotel has refused to continue negotiations with the union. As a result, the workers decided to rally in front of other Larco-owned companies, such as Bridge Studios

Sheraton YVR striking workers in front of Bridge Studios, Burnaby. Photo: Sharan Pawa

Shaelyn Arnould, Starbucks shift supervisor at Sheraton YVR, who is a Sheraton YVR employee, said the hotel is refusing to negotiate in good faith with the unionized workers. Workers decided to intensify their picketing and protesting by targeting other Larco-owned businesses. 

According to Arnould, the workers’ main demand is an increase in wages to meet the Metro Vancouver living wage rate of $25.68 an hour, as well as better retirement and other benefits. 

“We’ve got grandmothers and mothers, people that have worked at this hotel for 35+ years,” she said adding, “37 years of service gets you $330 in pension.” 

As shift supervisor, Arnould makes well below the living wage, at $19.15 an hour. Her proposal would raise her to $21-22 per hour, which, although lower than the living wage, is what her department is demanding since they also get extra income from tips. 

“I’ve worked there since mid-2018, and I have never, ever, ever received any sort of wage increase,” Arnould said. 

Her colleague, Felisha Perry, has also been working in banquet services since 2018 and said she has only received a 25-cent increase in the past two years. Her current wages are $16.95, which is 20 cents higher than the current minimum wage. BC’s minimum wage will increase to $17.40 on June 1, 2024. 

Perry, who is 27, still lives with her parents. When she first started working at Sheraton YVR, she was making $3-4 more than the minimum wage. She was happy with her wages at the time because she also received tips. However, with inflation and rent hikes in recent years, she is now barely making ends meet.

“I want to get my own place, but with the wages that we’re making, I can barely afford to have a vehicle, let alone move out and rent a place,” Perry said. “I would say at least 75% of my friends right now say that they probably won’t have kids until they’re 35 or older. Even then, they don’t even know if they can afford a kid because we can’t even afford to move out on our own and get a one-bedroom.” 

Even while working at the Sheraton YVR before the strike, she had to work an additional part-time job to pay for expenses. 

Picketing Sheraton YVR workers in front of Bridge Studios, Burnaby. Photo: Sharan Pawa

According to Perry, the hotel remained open and operating throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, with workers continuing to come to work daily. 

“We were one of the only hotels in Richmond that was government-funded,” she said. “If you had COVID and you needed a two-week quarantine, you were allowed to stay at our hotel for a fraction of the price.” 

She added that workers were not compensated for risking their lives and health during that time, and none of the upper management team or owners “asked any of these people who came into work daily and risked their own health if they were okay or how is your family doing.” 

During Thursday’s rally, both Arnould and Perry noticed that security guards hired by the hotel, who are often present at their picket lines, were also present. 

“They’re always out there. They definitely yelled things at us, crossed the line of sticking cameras into our faces, yelling at us and saying negative things, insulting the union to try and change our minds,” Arnould said. “They’re there to record us and gather any legal evidence against us, but they never get anything because we’re not doing anything wrong, we’re just fighting for fair wages.” 

Arnould and Perry said the hotel’s refusal to negotiate is no longer about the money. Instead, they think it is about power and control, as the hotel is losing a great deal more by dragging out the strike and refusing to negotiate than it would if it paid employees a living wage. 

“It’s very obvious they don’t care about the workers, about the people who ran their business for over 30 years,” Arnould said. “We’re not even human beings to these guys. It’s just disgusting.”

This piece was made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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