River View Hotel staff push to unionize

Workers at the River View Hotel in Whitehorse have filed with Canada's Industrial Relations Board to join the United Association Local 310 union.

Workers at the River View Hotel in Whitehorse have filed with Canada’s Industrial Relations Board to join the United Association Local 310 union.

If successful, the staff would be following in the footsteps of employees at the Coast High Country hotel, who unionized last summer.

Front desk, housekeeping and maintenance workers at the River View filed to join the union on Monday, along with serving staff and kitchen workers at the hotel’s Fusion Restaurant.

According to one River View employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, two of the staff’s largest concerns are high turnover and potentially unsafe working conditions.

The hotel is near some of the city’s rowdier bars, and sometimes those patrons wander into the River View lobby after hours.

Currently, only hotel guests are allowed into the building after 11 p.m. They can register an overnight guest ahead of time, but enforcing those rules can be hard.

Front desk employees work the overnight shift alone, and if a situation with an unwelcome visitor gets out of hand, the only recourse is to call the manager or the police.

Staff say they want to see security features like a key-card entry system put in place to allow guests to come and go after 11 p.m. but restrict access to others.

Hotel owner Daniel Jung could not be reached for comment. Hotel manager Kaitlyn Spurvey, who answered questions on his behalf, said the hotel shares its employees’ concerns and takes security very seriously. They have put in “pretty extreme” security measures to deal with the issue, she said.

While there are no guest-only locks on the doors, the lobby does have a video camera. Guests are asked to show ID after 11 p.m. and both she and the police are only a phone call away, Spurvey said.

As for the unionization push itself, Spurvey read from a prepared statement by the owner.

“We’ve had a lot of discussion about it, and this is really something for our employees to decide. We deeply value our employees and we know that together we will continue to provide the best hospitality in the business for our guests,” she said.

Jeff Sloychuk, a union organizer with Local 310 and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, said there’s a push to get service industry workers into unions across Canada, as lifelong, stable jobs disappear.

“You’re seeing a decline in pensionable jobs, and people are having to take more precarious employment,” Sloychuk said.

“Yes, this is a strategic move for us to get more of these workers in the union, but we don’t seek them out. They come to us.” Often, workers will come in with concerns about labour standards violations or unfair employment practices. Sloychuk’s office can help them make a formal complaint, but in the small workplaces common to the Yukon’s service industry, keeping complainants anonymous can be challenging. And after a complaint is heard and ruled on, there is no protection for those workers.

Joining a union is an alternative, Sloychuk said, to dealing with workplace problems while also encouraging staff retention.

“We’re not at the same level of tourism and hospitality up here as some of the big destinations down south, but we’d like to be. While mining and industry are key to the territory’s economy, they fluctuate a lot. Tourism isn’t going anywhere,” he said.

He compared service industry jobs here with those at places like the Banff Fairmont Springs Hotel or even some of the smaller restaurants in the Canadian Rockies. Many of those jobs are well-paying and unionized, he said, which makes them very competitive positions to get into. That in turn helps increase the quality of service, which is good for the business and the tourist economy itself, he said.

The River View staff will have to wait about a month while the Industrial Relations Board reviews its files to find out if the unionize drive is successful.

Contact Jesse Winter at

jessew@yukon-news.com

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