Vancouver hotels win court battle over noise levels of striking workers

Oct 15 2019, 7:03 pm

After a union representing workers at a number of hotels in downtown Vancouver launched an “indefinite strike” last month, those hotels have now won a legal battle over the amount and kind of noise the workers are able to make on the picket lines, as part of their job action.

According to court documents, the Rosewood Hotel Georgia, the Hyatt Regency, the Pinnacle Hotel Harbourfront, and the Westin Bayshore all filed injunctions against the union’s strike action claiming, among other things, that the noise the protests were making violated noise bylaws in the city.

The hotels have now all won their cases in court.

In her decision, Justice Nitya Iyer wrote “there is no question that noise can constitute a nuisance at law.”

The applicable noise bylaw, she noted, “prohibits continuous sound exceeding 70 decibels, and the union provided evidence that sounds above 85 decibels are considered to be harmful.”

By her “rough calculation,” Iyer noted that the readings show that the sound levels exceeded 85 decibels 83% of the time.

“The evidence establishes that apart from some breaks or lulls, the noise from the picketing occurs from roughly 7 am to 7 pm daily,” she wrote. “Further, there is evidence that the Vancouver Police Department asked the picketers to stop using sirens because of the potential for confusion and possible safety risks.”

She noted that the hotel had also provided evidence of an incident in late September, in which a “picketer injured a hotel security guard by blowing a long blow horn directly into his ear.”

The hotel, she said, also brought forth evidence “of decibel readings taken by a private investigator on a phone app at various times of day on each of September 24, 25, 26, and 27, at distances of either 60 to 10 feet or 30 feet away from the picketing.”

In her decision, Iyer also recognized that a union is entitled “to bring economic pressure to bear on an employer during a lawful strike, including by dissuading customers from using the employer’s services.”

However, she continued, “those means of dissuasion are not unlimited.”

As such, Iyer wrote it’s her conclusion that the defendants and any persons acting under their instruction… are, “until the trial of this action or the conclusion of the current strike or lockout” are prohibited from:

  • Using sirens at or near the hotel premises; and
  • Using drums, air horns, blow horns, whistles, speakers, megaphones, or any other electronic device to amplify sound or to play pre-recorded sounds or pre-recorded music over 75 DBA on an approved sound metre as defined by the City of Vancouver bylaw number 6555 emanating at least 6.1 metres from the source of the noise or sound at or near the hotel premises.

Last month, nearly 200 Rosewood Hotel Georgia employees walked off the job, demanding safer working conditions, after negotiations with the hotel broke down.

UNITE HERE Local 40, the union that represents BC’s hospitality workers said in a statement that Hotel Georgia employees have been “without a contract for eight months.”

“The workers are demanding respect and working conditions which match the five-star service they provide on a daily basis to the hotel’s clientele.”

Around the same time, hotel workers from the Hyatt Regency, Westin Bayshore and Pinnacle Harbourfront hotels, represented by UNITE HERE Local 40, walked off the job.

According to the union, the strike is an “escalation” in a dispute which the union says began 14 months ago and relates primarily to the failure “to address significant outstanding issues related to workload, safety, and job security.”

The strike action by the workers – which includes room attendants, chefs, front desk agents, and other staff – is the first in almost two decades, the union said.

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh visited the striking workers for a lunch-hour meet-and-greet on Monday.

Eric ZimmerEric Zimmer

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