By D'Arcy Briggs
On August 10, members of Unite Here! Local 40 came to the BC legislature in Victoria to fight for their jobs. Since the general shutdowns, which started in March, over 90% of workers in the hotel and tourism industry have been laid off. Many of these companies are asking for government bail out funds to the tune of $680 million, but these same companies have not made any promise to their workers of a job when business reopens. The possibility of these workers being replaced by minimum wage positions is very real, and action needs to be taken to protect workers and their jobs. Unite Here! Local 40 are connecting together with other industry workers to demand a legal right to return to their jobs.
A week of action has been underway since Monday. Actions have included a car caravan of 50 participants, many circling the Parliament building with postered cars and showing support with workers, and the nightly ‘songs of solidarity’ where members sing labour and unity songs while passing out leaflets to government officials leaving work for the day.
I was lucky enough to talk to two of the organizers of the week of action to hear, not only why this is such an important campaign to support, but how echoes the concerns of demands of all workers.
“My name is Nym Calvez and I’m one of the lead organizers of this event. We’re going on a hunger strike starting today and it’s going to be an ongoing thing until the government hears our demands. We need to have a guarantee of our jobs when the industry recovers from Covid.
We’re going to be in front of the legislature building starting August 10 from roughly 9:30 in the morning until 6pm everyday. People can come and stop and show support and take time to talk with our religious staff, talk to the workers, and talk to our community allies. We are reaching out to people. We have a Facebook event and larger network page, Unite Here! local 40. We’ve planned car caravans and community rallies. Really, anything we can do to get our message out there and get the government to listen and to have the community rally and strengthen around this cause. We need to push government to listen to workers.
We are not disposable. We made them billions of dollars in profits by working in this industry. When the pandemic hit, we expected them to do better by us. The government introduced a wage subsidy program and CERB, which has helped a lot. But we need more. The issues that we have right now are that we need to push the employer to do the right thing. We want to have our jobs back when it is safe.”
“My name is Leo Sumcio and I work at the Best Western Chateau Granville in Vancouver. I’m also a part of Unite Here! Local 40. We’re here to ask the government to regulate or legislate in a way that, when things get back to normal, we have a job to go back to. We believe the government will have to hear us because this is not only for myself but for the rest of the 50,000 Hotel workers across BC who are hoping that when the pandemic is over, we have the job to go back to.
I’ve been working for 20 years in the industry, and others have been there their whole working life and some are 60 years old. It would be very hard for these people to find another job when they’ve been laid off permanently. We hope the government and others see what we’re doing here and the sacrifices we’re making to show what is needed. I’m hoping many people are receptive and listening and can do what they can to help us. If you’re able to, talk to your designated MPs, tell them that you want to help us to protect our job.”
Covid, climate, and social justice
It is important to amplify these voices and these struggles. The intersections of the Covid, Climate, and social justice crises have done more to expose the ruthlessness of capitalism, its hunger to squeeze workers dry just to keep profits. We work in solidarity with each other and find unity in the struggle. By amplifying the voices of those fighting for a better working conditions and a better world, we’re able to better see the fault lines within our current system, and organize and act to turn this vision into a reality.
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