by Barry Weisleder – February, 2005
In late January, hotel worker and union activist Emily Tang was fired by the Metropolitan Hotel in Toronto. Emily had been suspended for three months for
violating a policy that bans workers from making public statements about the hotel deemed negative by management. She was targeted as a leader of the MHWC (Metropolitan Hotel Workers Committee), a rank-and-file body formed to challenge unhealthy working conditions and racism by management.
Emily explained to a Toronto Socialist Action forum on June 18, “Our hotel employs about 400 workers. Almost all of us are immigrants and most of us are women. Our employer is abusive and runs a sweatshop. Basic work
place rights are ignored. Legal rest breaks are not provided, yet time for breaks we didn’t get have been deducted from our pay.”
“Workers in housekeeping have had to work with chemicals that leave burns on their bodies and interfere with their breathing. We are forced to lift heavy loads and push huge trolleys that injure us. Perhaps 10 percent of our workers are injured yet the employer never gives modified duties to those with injuries.”
Emily, who suffered an injury on the job herself, went with co-workers to seek the help of their union, UNITE-HERE, formerly the Hotel Employees, Restaurant Employees International Union, Local 75. They found that often grievances are not filed and that “union leaders and reps are on the side of management.”
When the MHWC picketed the hotel with community supporters, set up an information website, and went to the Ontario Ministry of Labour to seek enforcement of health and safety standards, UNITE-HERE bureaucrats
joined with management to organize counter-pickets, drawing on backward workers who openly expressed racist, sexist, and homophobic sentiments through slogans and leaflets.
Union officials did little to oppose increasing harassment and disciplining of union members, much less defend members’ freedom of speech. The union’s
lawyer even urged Emily to abide by management’s gag order following her dismissal.
But efforts to silence the opposition have not succeeded. Within a week of Emily’s firing, over 75 people, including activists from a variety of unions
and community groups, rallied in front of the Metropolitan to serve notice that the fight for justice is far from over.
The MHWC is increasingly turning its attention to the fight for decent representation and democracy within Local 75 (a huge amalgamated local that meets only four times a year), and to working with the Workers’ Solidarity and Union Democracy Coalition to change the direction of the labour movement generally.