British Columbia

Vancouver hotels sue chanting, picketing employees over 'intolerable' noise

Three downtown Vancouver hotels whose employees are entering their second week on strike are suing the staffers' union, alleging the workers walking the picket line are trespassing and creating an "intolerable" level of noise.

Striking hospitality workers have used airhorns, drums and megaphones to create nuisance, lawsuits allege

Hospitality workers from the Hyatt Regency, Westin Bayshore and Pinnacle Harbourfront hotels walked off the job in a co-ordinated strike Sept. 19. Now, the hotels are suing the employees' union, alleging the noise created by the picket line is excessive and "intolerable." (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The lobby of the upscale Hyatt Regency hotel on Burrard Street in Vancouver is ordinarily hushed, a grandiose hall permeated by subtle elevator music, soft-spoken front desk staff and the occasional whirr of the coffee machine at the in-house Starbucks.

But in recent days, the calm has been shattered by the pounding racket of striking employees marching in a picket line up and down the sidewalk outside the main entrance.

Chants from workers demanding safe, stable work are led by a colleague bellowing into a plastic horn. Other supporters sit on the hotel's front stoop, pummelling snare drums and plastic buckets with drumsticks hooked up to microphones and a sound system.

Picketers nearest the epicentre wear headphones or soft, orange ear plugs stuffed into their ears. They lean in and shout at each other to talk.

The noise they're making, they say, is to draw the public's attention to their cause.

Workers used plastic buckets and drumsticks during the strike on Monday morning

Hospitality workers on strike sit outside the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Vancouver and use plastic buckets for drums on Sept. 30, 2019. 0:24

The Westin Bayshore and Pinnacle Hotels, nearer to the harbour, have also seen similar strike action since workers walked off the job Sept. 19. On Friday, all three hotels filed simultaneous lawsuits against the workers' union over the "substantial and unreasonable amount of deafening noise."

"The noise is intolerable," reads one lawsuit filed on behalf of the Hyatt's parent company, Innvest Hotels, adding the sound lasts from morning until night.

The union workers, represented by Unite Here Local 40, have been holding what they call an "open-ended strike" outside the hotels since the lockout began. Room attendants, chefs, front-desk staff and other employees walked off the job after more than a year of negotiations over issues related to safety, workload and job security failed to yield results.

"Instead of suing us, they should be trying to work with the union and make things better for their workers," union spokesperson Sharan Pawa said in response to news of a lawsuit during a phone call Monday. "It's disappointing."

Vancouver’s downtown hospitality workers from the Hotel Georgia, Hyatt Regency, Westin Bayshore and Pinnacle Harbourfront hotels walked off the job in a co-ordinated lunch hour strike outside the Hyatt in Vancouver on Sept. 17, 2019. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

As well as the allegations over excessive noise, the hotels claim striking employees are trespassing and hindering people, particularly guests, who have been trying to maneuver around the hotels since the strike began.

The lawsuits claim union staff know their behaviour is not only disturbing the peace but could cost the hotels financially.

The companies are asking the court for an order to stop employees from picketing on its premises. They also want workers to stop blocking anyone going to and from the hotels and forbidding them from making any noise louder than 70 decibels — about the same level of noise that would come from a vacuum cleaner.

The hotels' claims have not been tested in court.

Hospitality workers walked off the job on Sept. 19, 2019. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Noise bylaws enforced by the City of Vancouver state no one is allowed to make noise in a public place that "unreasonably" disturbs peace and quiet in the area.

The lawsuits come after each of the three hotels lost a labour board challenge over new, replacement managers who were hired after striking staffers left their jobs. The B.C. Labour Relations Code bars employers from hiring replacement workers to do work usually done by union workers on strike.

A board member found the Hyatt, Westin and Pinnacle all violated the code and ordered the replacement managers off the job, though they noted the breach was not "egregious."

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