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(en) Canada, Toronto, Metropolitan Hotel Worker Speaks Out On Sweatshop Conditions

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Mon, 22 Mar 2004 12:35:24 +0100 (CET)

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by Emily Tang, Metropolitian Hotel Workers' Committee JUSTICE-A-METROPOLITANHOTELSWORKERS.ORG (unverified!)
The new socialist group* recently held a public forum to mark international
womens' day. Four women engaged in key workers' struggles addressed the gathering,
including emily tang from the metropolitan hotel workers committee. Below is the
text of her speech. My name is emily tang and i work in the banquet services
department of the metropolitan hotel in downtown toronto. I want to begin by
saying that I have never given a speech before in my life and I am very nervous.
I have written this out word for word so that I will not get stuck. Excuse my
nervousness but i am about to speak as best I can about a very important struggle
for immigrant workers and especially immigrant women in this city.

I came to this country nearly twenty years ago from hong kong
with my family. My mother became a hotel worker and I did too. I
started working at the metropolitan seven years ago. It is owned by
multi-millionaire, Henry Wu, who also comes from hong kong.
His entry into canada and his life here have been a lot easier than
for most chinese immigrants including many of his own workers.

The metropolitan is a luxury four star hotel that treats its
customers very well and they have high expectations. The workers
are almost all immigrants. Filipinos make up the largest group
with many chinese, south east and south asian and west indians.
Of the roughly 200 workers at the hotel at the moment, about 150
are women. In some departments like housekeeping, women
make up almost the entire workforce.

Working conditions in the hotel are very poor. The work is bad for
our health. The chemicals used in cleaning make housekeeping
workers sick. I work on banquets. I have to lift heavy equipment
like food warmers that I’m not supposed to. My
shoulder, back, neck and arms have been injured and the pain
lately has got worse. At least one worker in ten at the hotel is
presently injured but they are pushed to perform regular jobs.
Modified duties exist only in name. One worker was driven from
her job after 14 years because she developed cancer and they did
not want to be bothered with her.

We work long hours with no breaks or time to eat. It is common
for me to work 16 hours without a rest. One time, I took a cookie
that was going to be thrown out anyway because I had had no
break and a 12 course banquet was about to start. I was disciplined
for taking company property. The laws that regulate breaks and
hours of work are ignored but, if we don’t get a dinner
break, they still deduct half an hour off our pay.

Management harasses us. Housekeepers tell me that, if managers
don’t like them, they will deliberately mess up the
rooms after the work has been done and blame it on the workers.
The official language in the dining room is english but one of my
friends was punished for saying a few words in spanish to a friend
in the kitchen. The owner and department head are chinese so
cantonese is not punished but other languages are.

Workers who speak out or try to defend others are especially
targeted. False accusations of theft and assault are used to drive
people out of work. The metropolitan is an abusive sweatshop.

We have a union in the hotel but you would hardly know it. The
leaders of HERE local 75 have not challenged our employer in any
serious way and we have no confidence in them. A collective
agreement was signed two years ago but we had no real input into
it and have yet to see a copy of the final agreement.

We hardly ever see our union reps even when we phone
repeatedly. Grievances are not filed or followed up on. We took up
a petition a couple of years ago for the union rep to be replaced.
Forty of us signed it in my department alone but the local
president never even acknowledged the petition. Some of those
who have tried to speak out have been victimized by the employer
with the assistance of the union. Tony was fired and his arbitration
was sabotaged. The witness he most needed to speak on his behalf
was not called by the union lawyer. Carlos was elected as a
steward but the president removed him from his position. The
union leaders wanted to get rid of them as much as the hotel did.

For some of us in the hotel it was clear that nothing would change
until we took action. 56 of us are now part of the rank and file
metropolitan hotel workers committee. We have organized several
actions with the support of community allies. Delegations have
gone to the hotel and rally has been held outside.

When one of our members demanded to know of the president
why he was not being properly represented, he was told,
‘if you need help, go to OCAP’. Our
committee recently held a very disappointing meeting with the
president and it is clear that the present leadership has no interest
in seriously fighting our employer. Our committee has won some
concessions already, however. Grievances among workers have
been resolved due to our pressure. We are going to step up our
actions in the workplace and, with the support of allies like OCAP,
will mobilize outside as well. Recently, 300 bookings at the hotel
were cancelled because of our work. We intend to now demand
that high profile customers like the human rights commission stop
using the hotel. With the help of friends at york university, we are
pressing for henry wu to be kicked off the board of the york

The company and union bureaucracy are now working together to
try and stop us. The union rep and hotel manager just called
together the shop stewards in the hotel to jointly attack OCAP for
supporting our committee. They are now circulating a letter within
the workplace that demands that OCAP stay away from the hotel.
Workers are being threatened and bullied into signing the letter
but, despite this, many are refusing to co-operate. Of course, we
will not take seriously names on a letter that are obtained by
threats but this does show how bad our management is and how
corrupt the union leaders are.

People on the committee are also being targeted. When I am
called into work now, they take care to isolate me from other
workers. One of our commitee members was accused by the head
of hotel security this week of stealing a pen from a
guests room but he stood up to this and filed
grievances for harassment and false accusations. He pretended to
use the washroom after being grilled by the head of security and,
after he came out, he waited for a few minutes then went back in.
The head of security had all the garbage cans emptied on the floor
and was going through them looking for the non existant pen!
None of these intimidation tactics are going to stop us.

We are being approached by workers in other hotels and hope
many others will follow our lead. We are not anti-union but intend
to take back our union from the bureaucracy that presently
controls it.

Across toronto and canada, immigrant women face exploitation
and abuse. At the metopolitan, we are organizing to fight back.
Please support our struggle for justice
See also:
* [Ed. Note: A network of antiauthoritarian groups splet last year from
the Canadian Trotscist front.]

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