Local Mississauga hotels should be prepared for unionizing efforts

File photo shows striking workers in 2010 at the Novotel Toronto Centre hotel in downtown Toronto. Toronto Star/Andrew Wallace

October 15

Local hotels should be prepared to raise the wages of their employees or face the possibility of them organizing unions, said labour expert Laurel MacDonald.

The professor of labour history and environmental history at the University of Toronto Mississauga said the recent ruling by the Ontario Labour Relations Board about management at a local Novotel would likely inspire employees at other hotels to think about unionizing or demand better treatment from employers.

“I think workers are getting more informed,” she said, citing wages that have not increased since the 1970s. “I think the atmosphere’s changing and people are beginning to take chances even if it is difficult.”

The OLRB ruled management at the hotel on Hurontario Street acted illegally by threatening job losses, spreading misinformation and removing a key organizer from the workplace. As a result, the board ruled automatic union certification for all 100 employees.

“Taken as a whole, the hotel’s illegal activity was of such a nature that the wishes of the employees cannot be ascertained in a representation vote, even a vote held in conditions favourable to the union,” the labour board’s decision stated.

After the Novotel Mississauga organizing campaign began in October 2008, hotel management made repeated statements linking unionization to job losses and false claims related to health and the company’s RRSP plan. They also circulated a letter strongly urging employees to vote against union certification a few days before the official vote.

MacDonald said in addition to a “knee-jerk” anti-union sentiment, the private sector is difficult place to organize because the conditions and wages are not particularly good.

However, she said the recession has made it harder for people to quit unsatisfying jobs, resulting in a greater number of workers fighting for workplace changes. “Workers increasingly have nothing to lose,” she said. “The cost of living is going up and so after a while some of them get fed up.”

UNITE HERE is a national union which represents workers in Canada and the United States who work in hospitality as well as airports, laundry, food service, gaming, manufacturing and textile industries.

UNITE HERE researcher Marc Hollin said he does expect more calls than normal as a result of this OLRB ruling, but said companies like Novotel make a lot of money already and can afford the upcoming changes. “I’m not too worried about their bottom line,” he said, citing his previous experience as a bartender at the Fairmont Royal York.

MacDonald said while better wages and benefits would increase costs, business owners could stand to make money in the long term through lower turnover rates and improved customer service due to higher levels of employee satisfaction. “If employees feel respected and happier about their work situation they tend to do a better job,” she said. “You know, actually add to tourism.”

“If you have hotels where people are glad to be doing their job that is gong to be affecting their clientele, who will leave with very positive feelings.”

As a result of this decision, the 100 employees of the Mississauga Novotel will now be a part of UNITE HERE Local 75. Bargaining for their first contract has yet to take place.

Novotel is part of a worldwide chain of hotels owned by Accor, a Paris-based company. It operates seven locations across Canada. Hollin said the company’s North York and Ottawa locations are still under dispute with the OLRB.

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