Unifor: Canadian hotel workers’ voice blocked by U.S. union

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During a week in which workers at three Toronto hotels voted to join Unifor, the American union they are leaving behind moved to block the voice of workers from being heard, Unifor says.

“Workers are making the democratic choice to stand up to exactly this type of bullying and intimidation and to be part of a strong Canadian union,” said Unifor National President Jerry Dias.

Workers at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Toronto cast ballots today on joining Unifor, rather than continue to be part of U.S.-based UNITE HERE, but the ballot box was sealed after the American union filed a challenge with the Ontario Labour Relations Board.

In the lead up to today’s vote, UNITE HERE filed a submission asking the Labour Board to seal the ballot box, based on a procedural technicality that is likely to be addressed in the coming days.

Unifor views the allegation as a heavy handed tactic that the U.S.-based union is using in a final attempt to prevent workers from making a democratic choice to leave.

“The workers should be left to decide which union they want to join. We are confident that the labour board will agree, but it troubles me that the workers at the Hyatt have to be put through this by a union that claims to speak for them,” Dias said.

Earlier in the week, workers at the Westin Prince, Courtyard Marriott and Yorkville Bloor Marriott hotels all voted to leave UNITE HERE and join Unifor. In a vote today at the Quality Hotel and Suites near the airport, workers voted to stay with the American union.

Next week, workers at eight more hotels – the King Edward, Doubletree Metropolitan, Delta Toronto Airport, Hilton downtown, Toronto Don Valley, Hilton Toronto Airport, Sheraton Toronto Airport and Four Points Airport hotels – will also have an opportunity to vote and join Unifor.

“I don’t know what it is with this American union – what will it take for them to respect basic worker democracy?” said Kenan Hamit, a worker at the Hyatt Regency Toronto. “I’m confident we won that vote, and we’re ready to join hundreds of other hotel workers across the GTA and move to Unifor. These tricks and fear tactics are exactly why we want out of UNITE HERE.”

The American parent union of UNITE HERE Local 75 placed the local into trusteeship earlier this month despite repeated membership votes to not trustee the local. It also removed elected officers and seized the local’s assets.
“After months of stress and struggle, it has been gratifying to see hotel workers invigorated and optimistic about the future again, and choosing hope not fear,” said Lis Pimentel, who is leading the effort to bring hotel workers to Unifor. “We are calling on the American union to listen to the members, and let their votes be counted.”