Posts Tagged ‘hospitality industry’

My Toronto, unfortunately

June 25, 2010

I started out to write about the 80 striking Novotel workers down on the Esplanade, since they were supposed to have some reinforcements drop by later in the afternoon. Sure enough, the picket line was boisterous, the giant inflatable rat magnificent, and several were there from other places: not just CUPE but also workers from other hotel chains, as well as non-unionized colleagues from the two other Novotels, which are all owned by the French company Accor along with their Toronto Centre counterpart. With the French delegation to the G20 at the hotel, the union thought of shouting out a timely message.

The main issue on the table has been wages and benefits. All hotel workers face the same struggle, though some have it worse than others, explains Teferi, who works at the Royal York, “where conditions are much better. But we have to fight to get everyone to the same level. Some people are forced to do two jobs. They have no time for their families.” Yasmin is at the Courtyard Marriott and says there, workers are still waiting for the company to make an offer. She explains the unionized workers at 35 Toronto hotels would rather negotiate together, something the hotel chains oppose vigorously. According to the UNITE HERE Local 75 website, the number of hotel workers bargaining together in Toronto in 2010 is now 6000.

Then there’s the story of Rekha, a pro-union militant at the Mississauga Novotel, which has fought worker organization tooth and nail. She recounts numerous instances of management intimidation, including meetings during which workers were apparently told to think of how auto workers were unionized and lost their jobs as a result. Fired without cause, she was reinstated shortly after by a Labour Board decision. Since her hours as a food and beverage worker were reallocated to others, she was given far fewer shifts upon her return and has had to take out loans to make ends meet, she says. Rekha adds she’s not alone: one pro-union Ottawa Novotel worker was apparently fired because he “wasn’t happy enough there.” (Note to companies: workers create unions because there’s a legitimate reason why they are not happy, and the whole attitude thing connected to this, i.e., organizing unions, is in fact protected by Ontario law).

Rekha notes the industry is notoriously difficult to organize. The seasonal nature of the work and high turnover rates are a major factor. This said, UNITE HERE represents over 100,000 hotel workers across North America. UNITE stands for Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees and HERE, for Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union. They merged in 2004.

The Novotel on the Esplanade sits on some prime real estate, a stone’s throw from the G20 Summit site and its notorious security fence. I walked a bit while it was still possible, since the fence was open. No one stopped to ask me for identification as several websites had warned me would happen, so I guess I didn’t look quite dangerous enough. Could be the grey hair. I’ve never seen so many police officers. Every street corner had at least two and the summit hasn’t even started yet. There were cops sitting down eating strawberries, cops leaning on their cars, cops standing around their bicycles, cops getting into boats, cops walking with their riot helmets bouncing off their thighs. Most of them looked profoundly bored, but it was a warm sunny day, despite the dire forecast of rain and thunder showers.

As I walked along the street, I wondered where all those police officers were when my neighbour was getting strangled in my old neighbourhood at Lawrence and Kingston Road. I phoned 911 when I saw a man attacking her in the hallway, and yelled out that I’d called police and they were on their way. The attacker looked up at me and snarled that I was next, “bitch”. It took the cops three hours to show up. The station is right down the road, not even a kilometre away. Somehow my neighbour didn’t die and the guy left, but what if he hadn’t. She wasn’t in the Esplanade, or attending a summit of world leaders, whose heads are each worth, apparently, 500 times more cops than hers, before anything even happens.

I walked up Bay. At Adelaide a thin man sat on the sidewalk, bent over in misery. He held out his cup. It was filled with pennies, right there in the heart of the financial district, where workers wear suits worth more than this man will likely collect in a year. When I dropped in what I could, he thanked me so effusively it sounded like he’d run into Santa Claus.

That alone was enough to remind me why we need change.

(Pictures : striking workers are here and fence here)