Dozens of picketing hotel workers lined the sidewalks outside the main entrance to the Queen Elizabeth Hotel last week to demand benefits and improved working conditions.
Nearly 600 workers – including kitchen staff, servers, receptionists, bellhops, and housekeepers – went on strike August 28 after being without a contract for nearly two months. With over one thousand rooms, the hotel – located on René Lévesque and Mansfield – is the largest in the province and the latest in a string of conflicts between Quebec hotels and their staff.
Pascal Côté, president of the local Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN), which represents the workers at the “Queen E,” accused the hotel of using scabs – workers employed illegally to replace striking union members – in order to keep the hotel running.
“They don’t respect the law. If they were only the people who are allowed to work inside, they [would] have no service at all,” Côté said.
Hotel clients Greg and Petra King had no complaints about the service during their stay, which coincided with the strike.
The company which is managed by the multinational Fairmont Hotels and Resorts claimed in a press release last Thursday that “[t]he Queen Elizabeth will continue to maintain service to hotel guests with the support of management staff.”
Jean-Pierre Larche, a spokesperson for CSN, indicated Queen E workers decided to strike because they were unsatisfied with the progression of negotiations with hotel management.
The union is demanding a reduction in workload for housekeeping staff members, who, under the previous collective agreement were expected to each clean 14 rooms per shift. Larche noted that as hotels had renovated rooms over the past decade, adding extra beds and mirrors, the workload had become heavier for housekeepers.
“The workload…has surged but nobody ever talks about reducing the maximum number of rooms that they have to clean per day. That was a huge problem and we’re happy to break that,” he said.
CSN aimed to limit the number of rooms to 13, according to Tammy Bernier, who serves afternoon tea at the hotel.
“The reason for that is because there’s a lot of physical injuries and it’s very hard physical labour,” Bernier said.
Jennifer Cloutier, a housekeeper at the hotel, said that her co-workers have reported injuries on the job.
According to Cloutier, at a union meeting, a room service worker said he had to help a housekeeper who injured herself on the job when she fell in a bathtub, . Initially enlisting the help of security, the room service worker ended up dealing with the situation on his own.
“When [the room service worker] came back, he noticed that [the housekeeper] was still there, in tears in the tub. He brought her down, but no one gave her new clothes to change into,” Cloutier said.
On August 28 in a press release, the company said that working conditions and benefits at the hotel are “among the best in our industry in Canada.”
The spokesperson for the Queen Elizabeth was not available for comment at press time.