Union alleges illegal actions by Kamloops hotel management in order to lay off employees

FILE PHOTO: Unionized staff are alleging they were coerced into signing away rights when laid off from Fireside Steakhouse and Bar in February.

KAMLOOPS - The union representing laid off staff at the restaurant in a downtown Kamloops hotel has filed a complaint with the Labour Relations Board of B.C.

Unite Here Local 40 alleges 13 employees were coerced into signing a release before they could get their backpay, record of employment or severance.

Union spokesperson Michelle Travis says Plaza Hotel management misled workers, dodged meetings with the union and violated the Labour Relations Code in order to get rid of unionized employees. She says the employer forced the workers into a vulnerable situation and took advantage of them.

“The upshot is the behaviour here was outrageous on the part of the company, and illegal,” Travis says. “This is probably the most egregious example I’ve seen recently.”

When contacted by iNFOnews.ca hotel manager Shatha Al-Reihani refused to comment.

The form the employees had to sign overreached, including a release on any claims under federal and provincial law, human rights legislation and employment standards legislation, according to a letter to the Labour Relations Board from the union's lawyer.

Former employees of the restaurant contacted by iNFOnews.ca said they were unable to comment because the release they signed has a non-disclosure clause.

The letter states Al-Reihani requested a meeting with the union to discuss the restaurant’s permant closure Feb. 6. The next day, Andrew Pritchard, the union’s representative for the area and a steward at a hotel in Kelowna, agreed to meet on Feb. 14 or Feb. 15 to discuss the issue.

On Feb. 8, Al-Reihani, citing “negative buzz” amongst staff, rescheduled the meeting for Feb. 9 and told Pritchard if he didn’t respond before 4 p.m. on Feb. 8 she’d consider the new time approved.

“The company had requested a meeting with the union,” Travis says. “Instead of waiting to do that they jumped ahead.”

Hotel management held two meetings with restaurant staff, on Feb. 9 and Feb. 15, to tell them they were being laid off. No union representive was at either meeting.

Staff were told they would receive their vacation pay, backpay, severance and record of employment only if they signed the release. The letter says one employee who didn’t want to sign the release has had her pay and document withheld.

The lawyer’s letter also states staff were misled as to how long the restaurant would be closed, ranging from 20 days to six weeks. In mid-February Al-Reihani told iNFOnews.ca it might not open for the summer, but that it would reopen. The letter states Al-Reihani requested the Feb. 6 meeting to discuss the permanent closure of the restaurant.

Before the meeting on Feb. 9, Al-Reihani forwarded the release to Pritchard for approval and told him that unless he contacted her before 11 a.m. the next day she’d assume it was accepted, a deadline he subsequently wasn’t able to meet because only union officers can confirm a release and Pritchard isn’t one.

Speculation in the letter suggests the move to layoff employees was a way to either encourage the rest of the hotel workers to de-unionize or to contract out restaurant services to get around the union. When she spoke to iNFOnews previously Al-Reihani stated the fact a union was involved made things difficult for the hotel.

“What is the future of this restaurant?” Travis says. “From our end it looks like they have designs on that space to reopen it.”

The issue is currently with the Labour Relations Board.


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