Arbitrator rules public protests by Pinnacle Hotel workers over lack of daily cleaning services are a matter for the courts, not arbitration

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An arbitrator has refused to issue a ruling in a legal battle between Vancouver’s Pinnacle Hotel and its union in the wake of vocal public protests by workers who were critical of the hotel’s decision not to reinstate daily cleaning services post-COVID-19 pandemic.

The hotel management contended that these demonstrations, characterized by noise-making and public grievances, violated the terms of their collective agreement and amounted to legal claims including nuisance, intentional interference with contractual relations, and unlawful conspiracy.

At the heart of the hotel’s grievance is the assertion that the union’s rallies, which sought to draw public attention to the lack of daily cleaning, not only breached the collective agreement but also inflicted damage to the hotel’s reputation and contractual relations with its customers.

“The Union is not trying to remove cleaning practices from the scope of management rights through a grievance or bargaining,” the arbitrator said. “Rather, the Union is trying to get the Employer to change how it runs its business by a public protest and the Employer’s complaint is about the impact of that protest on its business.”

The employer sought remedies including declarations of the union’s breaches and damages for loss of reputation and goodwill.

The hotel initially lodged a grievance in February 2023, demanding a halt to what it described as illegal conduct by the union. This grievance was later expanded to include the aforementioned legal claims. However, the union pushed back, arguing that these additional claims were an inappropriate expansion of the original grievance and that such disputes fell outside the arbitration’s jurisdiction, suggesting they should be resolved in court instead.

The union’s defense hinged on the principle that their actions, aimed at advocating for the reinstatement of daily cleaning for the benefit of both guests and employees, did not violate the collective agreement. They contended that their right to protest and express their concerns publicly did not constitute illegal conduct under the terms of their employment contract.

The arbitrator’s decision focused on determining whether the dispute’s nature was indeed arbitrable under the collective agreement or if it fell within the jurisdiction of the courts.

“Cleaning practices are not covered by the Collective Agreement. The Employer decides how often cleaning will be done as part of the operation of its business. The Union does not dispute that cleaning practices are covered by management rights,” the arbitrator said, while also noting that the language states “the Employer is entitled to exercise its rights concerning cleaning practices and the Union members are entitled to express their opinion about it.”

The arbitrator concluded that the essence of the dispute, centered around the union’s right to protest hotel cleaning policies, did not directly relate to the terms and conditions of employment as outlined in the collective agreement.

According to the arbitrator, this placed the dispute firmly within the jurisdiction of the courts rather than arbitration under the collective agreement.

For more information, see The Greater Vancouver Hotel Association (Pinnacle Hotel) v Unite Here, Local 40, 2023 CanLII 133062 (BC LA).

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