At the height of Toronto's summer tourist season, unions at three hotels, including the Fairmont Royal York, have moved into strike positions.
Eighty-one per cent of the 850 workers at the Royal York voted to strike as early as July 16, the date their contract expires, if negotiations fail.
Contracts for 134 workers at the Holiday Inn and Radisson hotels on Dixon Rd., near the airport, expired yesterday, putting them in a position to strike at any time.
Abdul Husseini came off shift as a waiter at the Holiday Inn's restaurant yesterday and went right into a meeting of Local 75 of Unite Here, the union organizing employees at hotels across North America.
"The important issue is standards," Husseini said. "Our first cook gets $14.76 an hour. At the Hilton down the road, the first cook gets $18.86 an hour and Westmont (Hospitality Group) owns them both. At least they could fill the gap.
"There are 18 people working in the kitchen, we're open 24 hours a day, most of them are recent immigrants from India and Sri Lanka and they really work hard."
Westmont Hospitality Group also owns the Holiday Inn, Radisson and Royal York. The three hotels are bargaining separately.
"We have a really good reputation of bargaining in good faith," said Melanie Coates, spokesperson for the Royal York.
While wages and working conditions are on the table, the union's goal is to sign contracts that expire in 2010, putting the Toronto area's 6,000 hotel employees in a position to negotiate new contracts at the same time. Local 75 has succeeded in getting 30 of the 40 Toronto-area hotels to sign deals that end in 2010.
In the case of the Holiday Inn downtown, it took a five-week labour action last fall to do it.
In some negotiations, said Sima Sahar Zerehi, spokesperson for Local 75, hotel workers would back off on wage increases to get the 2010 deal. "It's amazing to see these people who don't make much money standing up for each other."
"From the second you get there, you're answering phones, sometimes dealing with 150 departures, checking people in, looking up maps. It's demanding," says Julie Muise, front desk clerk at the airport Holiday Inn. "Many of my co-workers are immigrants, they don't speak perfect English and they don't understand they have rights."