Harrison Hot Springs resort workers in strike position

Resort workers in a popular B.C. tourist destination say a strike could come at any time, nearly one month after they began negotiating a new collective agreement with their employer.

Workers at the Harrison Hot Springs Resort & Spa, about 100 kilometres east of Vancouver, are asking for provisions including "significant" wage increases, better overtime pay and advance notice of scheduling changes.

Unite Here Local 40 represents approximately 230 staff, including room attendants, front desk agents, servers, cooks and dishwashers who work at the resort.

Since May, the union has been bargaining for a new contract with resort management. On Monday, more than 96 per cent of the union's members voted to strike.

Vicki Bolan has worked at the Harrison Hot Springs Resort & Spa for more than 40 years.
Vicki Bolan has worked at the Harrison Hot Springs Resort & Spa for more than 40 years. She says wages have not kept up with the cost of living for hundreds of workers at the resort. (CBC News)

"[The resort] used to be the place to work. We attracted the best employees, the best workers," Vicki Bolan, a bartender who has worked at the resort for about 40 years, said. "Now we have smaller mom and pop restaurants down the street that are offering wages that are higher than what we have."

The resort is owned by Aldesta Hotels Group, which owns hotels in B.C. and Australia. Last year, the company acquired the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort in the B.C. Interior.

Aldesta Hotels Group is, in turn, owned by Saliance Global Holdings. Harrison Hot Springs Resort & Spa, Aldesta Hotels Group and Saliance Global Holdings did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Bolan is on the workers' bargaining team. She said the workers' last collective agreement, which ran from June 2020 until May of this year, raised wages by four per cent over four years, and cut overtime pay from double to 1 ½ times wage.

According to Bolan, the minimum wage increase at the beginning of June forced the resort to raise wages for three categories of employee. She said wages are not keeping up with the cost of living — driving employees to find work elsewhere, leaving the resort understaffed.

"It's kind of sad ... when positions that five or six years ago were two to three dollars an hour higher than minimum wage are now under minimum wage," Bolan said.

"We have members who are single parents with families that are now, even though they're working full time 40 hours, having to visit the food bank," she added.

Michelle Travis, a Unite Here Local 40 spokesperson, said the workers are asking for improvements on medical benefits and pension contributions. The union is also asking for transparency on the resort's policy for tipping staff when the resort holds banquets, and for 48 hours of notice before workers' schedules are changed.

While Travis said the union would not share a specific wage increase demand, she said workers "are looking for a significant bump to deal with the increased cost of living."

"The hotel has not really invested in the workforce in a way that they should," Travis said. "The real critical issue here is making sure workers, particularly those who have been there for a long time, are paid what they're worth."

Since the agreement expired, the union and management have met several times to negotiate a new contract.

The vote to strike means the union can call a strike at any time during bargaining. Negotiations are scheduled to resume on Thursday.