by Peter Hasek
Originally published at School Edition! on August 14 2013
Editor’s note: a rally in support of Toronto Plaza Hotel workers is taking place today (August 15) at noon at the Toronto Plaza Hotel on 1677 Wilson Street.
The USW brothers and sisters at the Toronto Plaza Hotel have been on the line since mid-April, and their spirits are still high. I walked with them for about an hour and listened to workplace horror stories that went from bad to worse. These are workers who two years ago gave in after a week on the line, and accepted concessions including a 0% wage increase and complete loss of benefits. They rightly stated that they should be treated with more respect after showing such a sign of good faith. But that is not the case.
I spoke to the former USW Unit President, Rocky, who picketers told me was one of their greatest defenders against their employer. He was wrongfully dismissed soon before this round of negotiations, and still joins the picketers when he is not fulfilling his obligations in his position on the Executive Board of the Toronto Labour Council. He gave me some details of concessions Mr. Chaudary (the employer) was asking for, including such illegal items as making the USW collect their own dues, and requiring the USW to incur all costs for arbitration. Rocky worked at the Toronto Plaza Hotel for 14 years when he received the email notice of his termination from Mr.Chaudary.
“I don’t care what the public thinks of me.” said Rehan Chaudary, when I suggested he offer a meager cost of living increase in the contract to save face, and not appear to be unreasonable. He stated repeatedly that there was “no money” for any pay increases (though according to picketers he makes patrons pay cash, which is easy to leave unreported). He complained about how much the hotel was costing him, and how he paid to turn it into the great hotel it is today.
Mr. Chaudary said that the pay cuts he was making “wouldn’t even be enough” to prevent him from having to sell his business. I asked why he would make such a big deal about stripping contracts if they weren’t enough to help. “I need to save my hotel” was all he had to say. I could see negotiations were not Mr. Chaudary’s strong suit, so I moved on.
At first he denied calling his employees ‘animals’, then quickly changed his mind saying it was in response to ‘USW thugs’ who attended the protest outside his parents house. I would have believed this if it weren’t for the fact that the protest occurred after the ‘animals’ statement.
I couldn’t get past the similarities in the language used by this employer and the provincial government in the last year in relation to teachers. The USW picketers suggested that the way Mr. Chaudary operates in the margins of legality might be assisted by government officials, and I wouldn’t doubt it. I mentioned that if our leaders let situations like this take place, and not respect bargaining themselves, they are telling employers that Canada is essentially the “Wild West of Labour Rights”.
After this discussion of conspiracy, three of us said in unison, “If they can do it to us, they can do it to anyone.” I guess that’s why we all have to keep fighting. Just because (some) teachers only went on strike for a day, that doesn’t mean our fight is shorter or less important than that of our USW brothers and sisters at the Plaza. We are fighting the same fight, the fight for our future jobs, and our children and grand children’s jobs.
How can you help? Mr. Chaudary’s phone number and more info on the strike, along with the poster above to download and share: Download here!