We represent two-thirds of UNITE HERE Local 75’s former Executive Board. We came to Canada from many different countries to build a better life for ourselves and our families. We are room attendants, servers, cooks, cleaners, stewards, cafeteria workers, and guest service agents. Local 75 is our home and UNITE HERE is our family. The corporations our union goes up against are international and so too, is our union and our struggle.
Our home at Local 75 is strong. It was built with the blood, sweat, and tears of our members. We believe the diversity of our membership has always been our strength, so it hurts us when a “nationalist” message is used to divide us and to damage the home we built together.
We have always tried to resolve issues locally, but our former local president Lis Pimentel made it impossible this time. For over a year, our local had been embroiled in a debilitating internal conflict due to Ms. Pimentel’s leadership—a conflict based on serious allegations of abuse of power and racism. In April 2017, 17 out of 25 elected Executive Board members and officers exercised our rights under UNITE HERE’s constitution and asked our General President D. Taylor to trustee our local.
Instead of immediately granting our request for trusteeship, President Taylor made every attempt to resolve the dispute at the local level. We were placed under voluntary supervision in May 2017 to try to avoid trusteeship. In July 2017 we believed that the Local Executive had taken meaningful steps to resolve our issues. We had all agreed, including Ms. Pimentel, to make a joint statement of unity and to tell our members about the positive steps we had taken to move forward.
Five days later, at a general membership meeting, Ms. Pimentel reneged on the agreement. She continued to abuse her power and failed to recognize us as the governing body of our local. She dismissed us and silenced us, cutting us out of important decisions that affected our local in violation of our bylaws. She was especially dismissive of our Black officers Nuredin Bulle and Valrie Lue who came from the rank-and-file. Allegations of harassment and bullying of Black staff were rampant in the workplace—sadly, Local 75 became divided along racial lines.
This is not about an “American invasion” of Canadian workers. In fact, our former President Lis Pimentel, an American herself, had numerous opportunities to avoid trusteeship.
We want to underscore that the trusteeship was not imposed on Local 75. Our local was in turmoil and we requested trusteeship because it was our only hope to move forward.
We want Unifor’s leadership to know that we are saddened that you have chosen to work with Ms. Pimentel to raid our local. You are hurting the rank-and-file leaders and members who put years of their lives and devotion into building our home and protecting hospitality workers.
Even though Ms. Pimentel and Unifor are attacking our Local 75 family with full force, we, the worker leaders, will protect our union against this raid. We hope that Unifor and its members will finally see the truth about our local and its struggles.
Together with the wider labour movement, we will move forward and continue to fight for workers to have a voice in the organizations we have built.
Our union has come through this struggle more than 7,500 members strong and ready to fight for the best contracts for hotel workers and our families across the GTA in 2018.
Nuredin Bulle, UNITE HERE Local 75
Valrie Lue, UNITE HERE Local 75
Habtom Ogbamichael, Sheraton Centre
Lloyd Manning, Radisson Suite Hotel Toronto Airport
Ianka Stoyanova, Holiday Inn on Bloor
Sami Hana, Old Mill
Christine Smalling, Hilton Toronto Airport
Colin Frances, Upper Canada College, Food Service
Yohannes Habte, Holiday Inn Toronto Downtown Centre
Josh Cuasay, One King West
Rik Hockley, Novotel Toronto Centre
Kayann Drummond, Sheraton Centre
Maria Richards, Delta Hotels by Marriott Toronto East
Nigel Blair, York University, Food Service
Abdalla Idris, Chelsea Hotel Toronto
Avanell Johnson, Fairmont Royal York
Froilan De Guzman, Sandman Signature Toronto Airport Hotel
Medhin Ghebre, Chelsea Hotel Toronto
Yosief Ogbasellasie (trustee), Sheraton Centre
With nearly 8,000 members, UNITE HERE Local 75 remains strongest, largest representative of hotel workers in the GTA
Toronto, Ontario – Hotel workers at 17 hotels around the GTA have decided to remain with UNITE HERE Local 75 on the heels of raiding efforts by Unifor, including the Toronto Don Valley Hotel & Suites and the Hilton Toronto who both voted overwhelmingly in favour of UNITE HERE today. Hundreds of hotel workers have also filed with the Ontario Labour Relations Board to have their signatures revoked from Unifor petitions as a result of feeling bullied and misled in the raiding efforts.
“Thousands of UNITE HERE members decided to stay with the strongest hotel union in the world because they know there is strength in numbers and that solidarity means greater bargaining power and better benefits. We fought to protect our hard-earned contracts in the face of bullying tactics on the part of Unifor,” said Vemelyn Feliciano, a room attendant and Shop Steward at the Adelaide Hotel.
Over the last three weeks, hotel workers around the GTA were pressured by Unifor to sign petitions to leave UNITE HERE Local 75 and join Unifor. Hotel workers are now raising concerns with the Ontario Labour Relations Board about Unifor’s tactics and bullying in the workplace. This has led to questions about the validity of Unifor’s petitions and the sealing of several ballot boxes by the Ontario Labour Relations Board following workplace votes.
Of the 48 hotel properties represented by UNITE HERE Local 75 in the GTA, Unifor attempted to raid 24 hotels. Out of those 24 hotels, 17 decided to stay with UNITE HERE Local 75, four chose Unifor, and three ballot boxes are yet to be counted pending the outcomes of hearings by the Ontario Labour Relations Board.
“The height of hypocrisy is Unifor accusing UNITE HERE of ignoring democracy when their entire set of actions have been to mislead and deceive workers in a blatant power grab,” added Kayann Drummond, a guest services agent at the Sheraton Centre.
“I’ve been part of building Local 75 as the strongest hotel worker union in Toronto for the last 27 years. We chose to stay with UNITE HERE because that’s best for our families and our future. Unifor’s attempt to break us down and lower our working standards through intimidation and fear is beyond shameful. I am proud to stand up for my coworkers and our right to fair working conditions and pay,” said Medhin Ghebre, a room attendant at the Chelsea Hotel.
UNITE HERE remains the strongest hotel union in North America, with the vast majority of its membership being hospitality workers, including workers at nearly four dozen hotels in the GTA. By comparison, Unifor has less than 3% of its members working in the hospitality industry.
“I’m so proud that my coworkers and fellow UNITE HERE Local 75 members chose to stick together and defend our rights as a union. It shows the courage and strength of working people. We have sacrificed too much to allow our union to move backwards,” said Rik Hockley, a banquet server at the Novotel Toronto Centre.
UNITE HERE Local 75 continues to represent nearly 8,000 hospitality workers, including workers at 44 hotels in the GTA.