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Hotel Workers Near Settling

On eve of strike, union recommends approval of new contract offer.

By Tom Sandborn 24 Sep 2007 | TheTyee.ca

Tom Sandborn is a regular contributor to The Tyee, with a focus on labour and health policy issues.

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Hotel workers and supports were poised to picket Saturday. Photo T. Sandborn.

In the final hours before a 72-hour strike deadline expired this weekend, the organizing and negotiating committees for unionized Vancouver hotel workers have recommended that their members accept a contract offer from four luxury downtown hotels.

"This is the best contract I have seen in 30 years working at the Four Seasons," said Shanta Prasad, a member both of the eight-member negotiating committee and 100-member organizing committee of UNITE HERE Local 40. "We set six goals for our new contract, and this offer makes real progress on all six issues. We are so happy."

The workers, represented by UNITE HERE Local 40 have been working without a contract since the end of June, and rejected an earlier management offer last week. They clean rooms, serve drinks and meals and provide other guest services at the Hyatt Regency, the Four Seasons, the Westin Bayshore and the Vancouver Renaissance Hotel. The union issued strike notice at noon on Thursday, Sept. 20, and would have been in a position to put up picket lines or take other job actions at noon on Sunday, Sept. 23.

Union leadership had been mandated to take strike action by 85 per cent of voting members late in August.

'Money, respect and safety'

The 72-hour strike notice was issued at a raucous ceremony opening a potential strike headquarters in a warehouse space on East Hastings last Thursday. The event, attended by many leading trade union and NDP figures, including MP Libby Davies and B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair, heard a long list of speakers pledge labour movement and public support for UNITE HERE Local 40 workers if they were forced to take their demands to the street.

"If you have to go out on the picket line, you won't be there alone," said B.C. Fed president Sinclair. "These multi-national hotel chains are spending millions on renovations and amenities. It's time some of that wealth goes to the women and men who create it working in the hotels. This is a struggle about money, respect and safety."

"We're here in solidarity with the people who make this city work," said NDP member of Parliament Libby Davies. "You have a right to a decent living wage, and to work without constant pain."

UNITE HERE spokespeople emphasized at the Thursday event that they had no intention of quitting the current contract struggle without significant progress on six issues: wages, pensions, medical benefits, workload for housekeeping staff, sick days and current policies that divert part of the tips paid on banquet services away from the servers to hotel management.

The decision to accept the improved offer tabled by hotel management, a decision which sources close to the negotiations told The Tyee was made amidst cheers and applause from the nearly 75 committee members in the meeting room at the Hyatt, came around 11 p.m. on Saturday night, hours before the strike deadline was due to expire.

The union's members at the four downtown hotels will vote on the contract offer this Friday, Sept. 28.

Hyatt manager 'happy'

Although union sources declined to comment on details of the proposed contract before their membership has a chance to discuss and vote upon them, well informed sources close to the negotiations confirmed that the contract offered would run for three years and would include salary increases of 12 per cent. They also said that some progress had been made on all of the six issues targeted for contract improvement.

Sources tell The Tyee that a three-year term for the Vancouver contracts would align them with the expiry dates for UNITE HERE hotel contracts in Washington D.C., Toronto and in Hawaii. Industry observers have often noted that union negotiators have more leverage in dealing with multi-national hotel chains if they are in a position to shut down operations in more than one city at a time during a dispute. The current Vancouver contracts expired at a time this summer that did not allow for any such cross-city pressure, so the new agreement, if ratified, will leave the union in a stronger bargaining position in 2010.

Tony MacDonald, front office manager at the Hyatt Regency, told The Tyee on Sunday evening, "I'm happy we've reached an agreement. Beyond that, I cannot comment in detail on the terms of our offer."

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