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Treva Martell (bottom right) speaks at a virtual Unite Here! press conference on the situation at the Pacific Gateway Hotel. The conference included Gangamma Naidu (bottom left), a room attendant who has worked at the Pacific Gateway for over 40 years, and Unite Here! Local 40 executive director Robert Demand.

Hotel workers face permanent layoffs after government contract extended

Pacific Gateway Hotel has opted to contract Red Cross rather than rehire original workforce

By Emma Arkell , in City , on December 12, 2020 Tags: , , , , , ,

Laid-off workers at a Richmond hotel had their hopes of being recalled to their jobs dashed last week when the hotel announced an extension of a federal government contract to operate as a quarantine facility.

In stark contrast to other hotels in the region that have been commandeered by the provincial or federal governments to house travellers, agricultural workers or vulnerable populations, the Pacific Gateway Hotel has kept on only a small fraction of its staff to work in the hotel. Instead, it has relied on workers from the Red Cross, which has left 90 per cent of the original workforce unemployed, according to the union representing the hotel staff.

The hotel will continue to be staffed by the Red Cross until March, which is when over 150 original hotel workers represented by United Here! Local 40 will lose their right to recall.

Until last week, hotel management had announced contract extensions on a month-to-month basis. But with the most recent contract extension came the announcement that the hotel would not extend the workers’ recall rate past March.

The Pacific Gateway Hotel in Richmond, B.C. Photo: Google maps

It’s not clear who is making the decision about using Red Cross workers instead of existing hotel staff but the sudden change in the last contract extension has sparked suspicion amongst workers and their union that the hotel will use the pandemic as an opportunity to hire a new workforce at lower wages.

According to Michelle Travis, spokesperson for Unite Here!, the Pacific Gateway has said that decisions around staffing are ultimately being made by the federal government. Since the hotel has not been forthcoming with the details of the contract to date, the union isn’t convinced.

Travis expressed frustration with the federal government’s inaction on this issue after months of general promises to protect Canadian workers impacted by the pandemic.

“Your actions here are hurting the workers that you purport to help.”

Many workers at the Pacific Gateway are long-term employees, having earned seniority, good wages and health benefits during their years or even decades on the job.

The Pacific Gateway Hotel was acquired late last year by PHI Hotel Group, who expressed interest in developing the land around the hotel.

The Sheraton Hotel at Vancouver Airport currently houses agricultural workers and is also operating under a federal government contract. But, there, hotel management opted to recall 50 to 60 per cent of their workforce this summer. Those workers are also represented by Unite Here! Local 40.

BC Housing operates several hotels as self-isolation and quarantine sites for vulnerable populations throughout the province. A statement from BC Housing to The Thunderbird stated:  “In all cases, an effort has been made to retain hotel employees wherever possible.”

Treva Martell worked at The Deck Kitchen + Bar at the Pacific Gateway Hotel for 15 years.

Treva Martell, a server at the Pacific Gateway for over 15 years, says that workers understand that the hotel needs to be used as a quarantine site, but they want their jobs to be protected.

“If all of the hotel staff are willing to wait for our jobs no matter how long it takes, why wouldn’t they just extend our recall rate?”

The Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Red Cross declined to comment on the matter. When reached for comment, Donald Pinkney, Director of Sales and Marketing at the Pacific Gateway Hotel, declined to comment, citing privacy concerns. The union is asking the Pacific Gateway and the federal government to secure an additional 24 months of recall, which is when they expect hotel business to have recovered.

Like many workplaces in the hospitality sector, the Pacific Gateway’s staff is majority women, many coming from South Asian communities. Martell says they were a close-knit workforce that regularly participated in charity events and felt “like a second family.”