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Nora Loreto is a writer, musician and activist based in Québec City. She is the author of From Demonized to Organized, Building the New Union Movement and is the editor of the Canadian Association of Labour Media. She writes regularly for blogs and magazines, and wrote a chapter in Canada After Harper, released by Lorimer Publishers in August 2015.

Hotel workers are resisting concessions at Regina's Best Western Seven Oaks

| January 19, 2016
Hotel workers are resisting concessions at Regina's Best Western Seven Oaks

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Hotel workers at the Best Western Seven Oaks in Regina have been on the picket line since mid-December. While both sides have indicated that they're prepared to bargain at any time, the union wants concessions removed from the table and management is refusing negotiate any of the financial issues.

They're at an effective stale mate.

Wages and benefits are at the heart of this struggle, but so too is access to the union's membership. The union is fighting to maintain the status quo for member access.

Currently, if the union wants to meet with a member, management must give them access to that member, and cover the worker's costs for a five-minute meeting.

If the meeting goes over five minutes, the union has to pay for the rest of the time.

Unions need access to their members. Otherwise, it can be nearly impossible to reach out to them, hear the issues they face that need to be addressed, or simply offer a personal connection. From the union’s perspective, this time has to be during work hours, as workers are much less likely to meet with the union on their personal time.

Management knows this and is trying to change the status quo. According to the union, management is proposing that the union is given a room to meet with workers, five times a year. The catch is that these meetings must occur outside of the employees' work hours.

The workers, represented by UFCW 1400, started negotiations on October 9, 2015. If negotiations weren't finished by December 5, workers would receive no back-pay for advances made in the new collective agreement. The same thing happened during the last round of bargaining.

This has given management an incentive to ignore deadlines as workers will are currently losing money because of the lack of back-pay provision as negotiations drag on.

UFCW 1400 President Norm Neault said that there has been nine rounds of bargaining and it's unclear what the next steps will be. From the picket line, amid supporting honks from passing motorists, Neault said that cost of living is the main issue for the striking workers, and workers in general across Saskatchewan.

The workers are fighting against management's attempt to make them pay 50 per cent of their benefits, a cost of about $70-$80 to the workers. This would effectively undo any wage increases that workers could win. Workers who opt out of the benefits plan are denied access if they seek re-entry, a tactic that Neault says has pushed many people away from having benefits.

This practice, along with charging people to access health benefits, has left 40 per cent of the Best Western Seven Oaks workers without health and dental benefits. The union is fighting for all members to have access to benefits.

They are also trying to boost the starting wage to be a living wage at $15/hour, along with commensurate increases for non-starting wages.

Neault said that the employer could force a vote on their latest offer by going to the labour board and asking for one. He said that considering he hasn’t done that they "must prefer to see the staff out on the street."

The striking workers have received a lot of support from other unions in Regina, including the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour and the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses. Neault said that this support has been "nothing less than spectacular." And, while this time of year can be a difficult one for the hotel industry generally, he said that judging by the number of cars in the Best Western Seven Oaks parking-lot compared to the other hotels on Albert St., the strike is having an impact on business.

On December 28, Glenn Weir told the CBC that business was operating as normal, despite the strike: "We have people in the off sale [where Saskatchewanians purchase cases of beer] and the corner pub. So all is business as usual for our end of the situation right now."

Image/UFCW Local 1400

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