Surrey’s largest hotel is behind a picket line after roughly 120 unionized employees of the Sheraton Vancouver Guildford Hotel went on strike early Tuesday morning and Surrey’s Board of Trade is worried it will interfere with the mayor’s annual State of the City address.
“The union has broken off talks with the employer as they steadfastly refuse to respond to the union’s proposals in writing,” Peter McQuade, Unifor’s national representative and lead negotiator, told the Now-Leader. “They have also tabled an insulting offer where more than half of the employees would be earning less three years from now than they presently earn. The members have had approximately 6.2 per cent in increases in the last eight years which on average is around ninety cents in total.”
“There are no future scheduled talks at this time,” McQuade said.
The Unifor Local 3000 members work in guest services, the lounge, the kitchen, on banquets, laundry, as room attendants and in maintenance at the hotel, at 15269 104th Ave.
Jerry Dias, Unifor’s national president, said the hotel’s “refusal” to bargain with the union betrays a “total lack of respect for the workers who make that hotel a success. Hospital workers deserve good working conditions and fair compensation.”
The strike began at 4 a.m., after the Collective Agreement expired.
It comes just days before some major events set for the hotel. The Sweet Adelines’ convention, with about 700 women expected from British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan is being held this coming Thursday through Sunday.
“Of course there are a few concerns but mostly we’re going to be trying to make best of it,” said Yvonne Meyer, competition coordinator and regional membership director, who lives in Enderby. “We have been notified that most services will be removed and we would be crossing a picket line.”
The Surrey Board of Trade is also set to hold its 10th annual Surrey International Trade Awards night at the hotel on Thursday, May 10, and the board’s CEO Anita Huberman is quite concerned.
“It’s very unfortunate, well, it’s a bit concerning because it’s our international trade awards reception and we have our consulate offices from Vancouver coming out and whether or not they’re going to cross the picket line is a question, so I have my staff phoning the consulates right now to see if that’s going to be a problem,” Huberman said. “If it’s going to be a problem then the event is compromised. Normally I would think of moving the event but we have such a large number of people attending, it’s hard to move a large number of people. For this event it’s around 250.
“But the next event after that, if this job action doesn’t resolve itself, is our mayor’s annual State of the City address for Linda Hepner,” she noted. “That’s May 24 and we have 500 people coming to that, and to change locations is simply mind-blowingly difficult. It compromises my brand for the organization, it compromises everything, and of course we want to make sure that Linda’s last annual ‘State of the City’ is perfect.”
Meantime, Huberman said that for next week’s event, “We’re just waiting the next couple of days to see what happens. I’ve been communicating with management over at the Sheraton about you know, how I am a significant client of the Sheraton and this situation needs to resolve itself sooner rather than later.”
But John Kearns, the hotel’s general manager, said he doesn’t expect too much disruption as a result of the strike.
“The safety of our guests is of the utmost concern in this and so far, while there’s been some limited disruption in the picket lines, ie., in terms of getting across the line it’s been relatively smooth and just taken a minute or two, so it seems to me we’re listening to what their protests and we’re continuing to do business,” Kearns told the Now-Leader.
“We’re operating fairly normally,” he said. “We’ve curtailed a few services,” such as valet parking. “But we still offer a very safe parkade and we have perimeter security in place, so there’s no real issues with that whatsoever.”
Lunch service, he noted, “we’re not able to effectively do,” and dinner service is on a “limited availability menu, but our lounge and our meeting space is still open so we have meetings going on today, so it’s kind of business as usual, in many respects.”
He said more than 30 members of management are trying to pick up the slack. “We have a very seasoned group. Actually several have been through strikes before so they know exactly what’s up and they’re very good coaches, so we’re very confident that we’re going to be able to continue for quite a while if necessary,” Kearns said.
“Let’s just say we have been ready to come back to the bargaining table at a moment’s notice, you know, if we’re going to get in and talk about format versus employees’ lives, you know, I can’t really engage at that level because I don’t really understand why they won’t sit down and talk to us. They’ve broken off negotiations twice, so.”
Kearns said he has a “very experienced crew that has been involved in strikes and lockouts before, this is strictly a strike situation, so we’re quite comfortably in saying our guests are going to be in good shape and for those that want to come for meetings I don’t foresee no, any challenges other than some minor delays exiting and entering the property, so I think we’re good.”
Meantime, Jean Van-Vliet, Unifor Local 3000 president, charged that “for no discernible reason the employer has engineered a major disruption for hundreds of Sheraton customers.
“We’re prepared to bargain, but they just want to pick a fight with their workers and inconvenience customers,” he said.