Organizing the hospitality sector is attracting interest but remains complex

Inflation, job action by provincial employees and the announcement of the unionization of three Starbucks restaurants in Victoria, Surrey and Langley are reviving interest in unions and their effect on the labor market, say actors in the environment.

Conditions are increasingly difficult for workers trying to make ends meet. It encourages them to organizeexplains Michelle Travis, spokesperson for the local noh 40 of the Unite Here union, which notably represents hotel workers.

At the unionized Starbucks coffee shop in Langley, supervisor Sarah Anderson notes that working conditions have prompted employees to form a union.

We had a lot of security issues and couldn’t get answers from managementshe explains. We hope this will spark a wave that will spread across the province and, perhaps, across the country.

Unionization of coffeehouses in Langley and Surrey occurred in June. It followed by a few weeks the removal of the obligation to hold a vote to confirm the will of a company’s employees to unionize when 55% or more of them have signed a union membership card.

Slow negotiations and fragmented accreditations

The two-step approach was one of the barriers that limited a company’s employees’ ability to unionize. This approach has been abandoned, but there are other pitfalls, says Michelle Travis.

Among other things, she points out that under the rules in force in the province, reluctant employers can often block the adoption of the essential element of the establishment of working conditions: the collective agreement.

She cites in particular the example of the Pan Pacific hotel in Vancouver, where pressure tactics are exercised by a hundred workers dismissed at the start of the pandemic but still not rehired. Even though they have been unionized since August 2020, they still do not have a collective agreement.

At the unionized Starbucks coffee shop in Victoria, it took more than a year of negotiations to arrive at a collective agreement after unionization, which came in August 2020.

The fragmentation of the sector caused by the franchise system is another obstacle, adds Ms. Travis, because this system forces you to negotiate with several employers at the same time. The Hyatt Regency Hotel is not owned by Hyatt but by another companyshe explains.

Prioritize the sectoral approach

Director of Simon Fraser University’s labor studies program, Kendra Strauss acknowledges that the fragmentation of certifications brought about by the franchise system represents a barrier to unionization since the employees of each restaurant must begin their own process.

She would like to see a transition from regulation towards the creation of sectoral union certifications as in certain Scandinavian countries. They have a model of sectoral negotiations which allows the establishment of master collective agreements for the entire restaurant sectorshe cites as an example.

However, she believes that any serious attempt to organize the province’s restaurant industry must go through the negotiation of strong collective agreements at chains like Starbucks.

To transform this sector, you really need a vast movement of workers in this kind of chainshe says.

With information from Akshay Kulkarni

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