President Wilhelm's Sub-Standard Union Contracts  

The other week I joined a union that I deeply believe in, Workers United. There’s been a lot of talk about the break-up of UNITE HERE but as a former member of HERE Local 75 I have a lot to add. I’ve been employed at Fort Erie Racetrack and Slots since July, 17 1999 and I joined the union then. But it wasn’t until HERE’s 2004 merger with UNITE that I got any servicing at all from the union. I talked about this some in this YouTube movie:

It took a while to get rid of the bad taste Local 75 left in my mouth but now that we’ve left UNITE HERE and formed Workers United I really think we can finally get the good contract standards we’ve been lagging on for so long in the hospitality industry.

I want to be forward thinking but there’s been so much misinformation being spread by the former HERE leadership (not members like me) that I want to go on record about one of the big problems that UNITE HERE had that pushed the folks in my local in our new direction.

At the 2004 convention where UNITE and HERE merged, fmr. HERE president John Wilhelm (now UNITE HERE Hospitality Division President) proclaimed that "the test of the success or failure of this merger should be whether UNITE HERE organizes substantially more workers in the years to come than our two unions have been organizing separately before the merger". Since that factually has not happened, Wilhelm is now arguing in memos that the merger is successful but that its success should be evaluated on “whether we are achieving good contracts.” He is claiming that the union has won the best contract standards for hotel workers across North America.

But the merger failed to even do that. In Canada, thousands of UNITE HERE members work under lower contract standards than their peers at hotels organized by other unions. UNITE HERE’s weaker contracts have considerable gaps in pay, benefits, and worker protections. Union contracts are searchable online at the Labour Relations website which makes this simple to find for anyone who bothers to check.

In Vancouver, where the leadership of UNITE HERE Local 40 has been under supervision by the International Union since 2005 for financial mismanagement, the union represents some 10,000 workers in the hotel and hospitality industries in British Columbia. However, Local 40’s master agreement with the Greater Vancouver Hotel Employers Association, representing four premier Vancouver properties, is not as good as the Canadian Auto Workers’ contract at a similar comparable hotel, the Fairmont Vancouver.

  • Guest room attendants earn $1.68 to $2.33 more per hour under the CAW contract than under the Local 40 agreement, or $3,494 to $4,846 more per year. (footnote 1)Banquet servers at the Fairmont earn $16.27 per hour, compared to $11.52 at the Four Seasons (low) and $12.44 at the Westin (high) under the Local 40 agreement. That’s $7,966 to $9,880 more per year under the CAW contract.

  • The probationary period is more than twice as long for Local 40 members (90 days) as for CAW members (40 days), and it takes twice as long for new hires to earn the full rate of pay (12 months at Local 40 versus 6 months at CAW).

  • CAW members won extensive health and safety language, including the right for the union to accompany outside inspectors, the establishment of a Health & Safety Committee that meets monthly, annual company-paid first aid training, and language protecting members’ refusal to work in unsafe conditions (footnote 2). But Local 40’s master agreement doesn’t say anything about health and safety.

In Victoria, there is also a big difference between standards under the CAW and Local 40 agreements with major hotels.

  • At the Fairmont Empress, the employer pays 100% of the healthcare premiums for CAW members, while at the Coast Harbourside Local 40 members must make contributions to cover their fringe benefits.

  • Wages for housekeepers under the CAW agreement are $2.29 per hour higher than under Local 40’s agreement, amounting to $4,763 more per year.

  • Cooks’ helpers earn $2.59 more per hour under the CAW agreement at the Empress, or $5,387 more per year than under the Local 40 contract at the Harbourside Hotel.

And in Toronto, where UNITE HERE Local 75 has been dealing with frequent decertification attempts led by THEIR OWN MEMBERS in several hotels, six other unions have organized workers at 13 hotels in the GTA/Hamilton area. And standards achieved in those contracts are higher than those of Local 75 in many cases. For example:

  • Under the UFCW contract at the Four Seasons, , members receive three weeks of vacation at three years’ seniority, while it takes five years for members to earn as much under the UNITE HERE Local 75 contract at the Fairmont Royal York.

  • Maintenance staff are paid $1.44 to $2.78 more per hour under the UFCW contract at the Four Seasons than workers in the same classification at the Royal York under the contract with Local 75.

  • Servers at the Great Blue Heron Casino, represented by the CAW, earn $12.49 per hour compared to $9.97 per hour at the Royal York, or $5,241 more per year.

In a memo last month Wilhelm said, “the Union cannot expect to grow by making itself less relevant and beneficial to its members. Such a course would ultimately destroy the Union.” That's totally true. Which is why it's so sad that here in Canada, where many UNITE HERE hotel contracts fail to set top standards, the union is weakened. Multiple other unions have won strong, decisive victories in UNITE HERE’s jurisdictions while UNITE HERE’s own members have run decertification elections! It is true that without improvements in wages, benefits and working conditions, workers will not have the power necessary to effectively organize, but in his own house and under his own watch, some of Wilhelm’s key locals have failed to meet his most basic test. Honestly, we deserve better. That’s why we formed Workers United. If you care about standards in Canada you'll support us.
Footnote 1
All wage levels are from date of ratification and do not include contractually guaranteed raises. Members of the Vancouver Hotel Employers’ Association have the same master agreement but pay different wage rates, so all rates listed are the low and high end of the range. Yearly calculations are based on 2,080 paid hours of work.

Footnote 2
The CAW contract with the Fairmont Vancouver runs from 8/1/08 to 7/31/11. The UNITE HERE Local 40 contract with the Greater Vancouver Hotel Employers’ Association, representing The Four Seasons, Hyatt Regency, the Renaissance Harbourside, and the Westin Bayshore covers the period 7/1/07 to 6/30/10.

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