When NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh visited a picket line outside the Westin Bayshore Hotel on October 14, it brought national media attention to a strike that had already entered its fourth week. Singh’s presence buoyed the spirits of members of Local 40 of Unite Here, who are also on strike at the Hyatt Regency, Rosewood Hotel Georgia, and Pinnacle Hotel Harbourfront.
One of those workers at the Westin Bayshore, Yleine Demasana, has been a room attendant since 2014.
In an interview with the Straight, she brought up one aspect of the strike that hasn’t attracted nearly as much attention as the union’s wage demands or court orders limiting workers from making noise on the picket line.
Marriott International, which is Westin’s parent company, offers guests vouchers and loyalty points if they decline housekeeping services under its Green Choice program. And it’s having a terrible impact on some housekeeping staff’s livelihoods, according to Demasana.
“As a room attendant, I was getting five days a week scheduled,” she said. “But two years after [being hired], it gets bad because of this Green Choice…where I’m only getting two days a week scheduled.”
Demasana, who immigrated from the Philippines in 2008, explained that guests who are enrolled in the Green Choice program might go three days or longer without having their rooms cleaned.
“Well in my opinion, it’s just money-making for the company,” she said. “Because with the Green Choice, the guest is still paying the same amount of daily rate for the room but the expense is lesser because [managers] don’t have to pay a room attendant to do their room.”
Demasana said that when the time comes for the room to be cleaned, it’s invariably dirtier and requires the use of more chemicals to get rid of any stains.
“It’s all mouldy, especially in the washroom,” she revealed. “And it stinks a lot. Everywhere.”
On occasion, Demasana said that a guest will leave the room in reasonable shape but most of the time, it takes much longer to clean if they’re enrolled in the Green Choice program. This is especially so if they’ve brought pets into their room.
“If it’s a single-bed room, it will take us an hour to finish it,” she said. “But there are rooms with double beds, so it’s like an hour and a half.”
Under the expired collective agreement at the Westin Bayshore and three other hotels, room attendants can be assigned to clean up to 15 rooms per day in an eight-hour shift. The number can be adjusted depending on the number of checkouts or double-bed rooms that staff have to clean.
But it can mean that housekeeping staff must complete each room in a half-hour, even for guests who opt for Green Choice.
“So it’s really hard for us to finish,” Demasana claimed. “Green is money, it’s not about environment. It doesn’t help [the] environment. It helps only the hotel to get more income and cut labour in our housekeeping department.”
Demasana also said that the work is physically demanding. It’s not easy tucking sheets under the mattress and scrubbing a room.
She revealed that she feels pain in her body when she wakes up in the morning, especially in her shoulders, so she does stretching exercises before going to work. She also expressed fears about what all this physical labour will do to her body as she gets older, emphasizing that the workload is too high.
And it’s also not easy being on-call because of a reduction in shifts due to the Green Choice program. “We cannot set anything for our own self, even the doctor’s appointment,” Demasana said. “I prefer to go to work and get 40 hours before doing the other stuff.”
Fortunately, her husband is working as a roofer so they’re able to pay the bills. But her son had to take a student loan to attend a 10-month automotive course because Demasana’s income didn’t leave enough in the household budget.
The president of the union, Zailda Chan, told the Straight that she’s very proud of her members for fighting for better working conditions.
“They could have chosen to settle for 50 or 60 cents,” she said. “Instead, they chose the difficult path of sacrificing in the short term for the long-term future. And they wanted to show these hotels that they want to be treated like human beings at the end of the day.
“They contribute to the prosperity of these hotels and they’re not feeling that,” Chan continued. “So they wanted to show these hotels what they’re capable of. And I’m very proud. This strike has changed all of us. It’s changed every striker on the picket line. It tells the hotel: don’t underestimate us.”
This afternoon, Unite Here announced a tentative agreement to end the strike at the Westin Bayshore, Hyatt Regency, and Pinnacle Hotel Waterfront. Details are available here. The tentative deal also applies to employees at the Four Seasons Vancouver, who are not on strike but who could lose their jobs when the hotel closes early next year. Workers at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia are under a different collective agreement and remain on strike.