Partner Spotlight Series

by Sumaiya Tufail


Michelle Travis, UNITE HERE Local 40 Research Director (on the right) at Vancouver Pride Parade in 2019

How did you get involved in UNITE HERE Local 40?

I’ve worked with UNITE HERE, and our predecessor union, the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees Union, for over 20 years. I began as a strategic researcher working on campaigns to organize and raise standards for food service workers in New York City.  I was excited to be a part of the union because they were determined and creative in their fights against major corporations – and winning!  Since 2009, I’ve been based in Vancouver and proud to support our members across the province working in hotels, food service, airports, and resource camps. Having family members who worked in food service and my own experience working in hospitality, I knew first-hand that conditions needed to be better for workers in the industry and having a union is the pathway to a better future. 



Why does precarity matter right now & for the future? 

We represent workers in food services and hotels, and the structure of work is precarious. For the average person who stays at a hotel or eats at a restaurant, the ideal experience is one in which customers experience prompt and seamless service. But on whose backs is that service delivered?  Mostly women and disproportionately immigrant workers. Whether a worker serves you a meal or cleans your hotel room, it’s likely they’re dealing with low wages, unpredictable schedules, understaffing, heavy workloads, and unsafe conditions which have been standard in the industry for far too long. 

Image courtesy of UNITE HERE Local 40


Hospitality workers are employed by some of the wealthiest in society, yet they aren’t paid enough to support their families. There is an ongoing struggle with employers who prioritize cheaper labour costs over the stability and future of the very workers who contribute to their success.


A particular project you are excited about? 

Our members are striking at two hotels in Richmond right now, Radisson Blu Vancouver Airport and Sheraton Vancouver Airport.  Radisson Blu workers have been on strike for over two years and are taking on an employer who terminated 70 percent of the long-term staff during the pandemic and tried to push steep economic concessions on the rest – all while the hotel was being paid millions to allow the government to use it as a federal quarantine site.  The company tried to exploit the pandemic, but the workers refused to tolerate that. It’s exciting to be a part of the fight and push back. 

Nearby, Sheraton YVR workers are standing up to one of Canada’s wealthiest families to demand a living wage. Why would a wealthy owner deny long-term staff living wages? Because they believe they can get away with it.  The workers are determined to fight for what they deserve, particularly given how expensive it is to live in this city.  

Image courtesy of UNITE HERE Local 40

There’s real power in workers standing up and fighting back. I’m inspired by our members who make sacrifices to fight for dignity and respect on the job. It is incredibly hard to do but sends a powerful message to employers who treat hospitality workers like they’re second class.  The workers’ resilience can be awe-inspiring.

The hospitality sector is a critical one for our economy and a major employer, but what is the vision for workers in the industry?  Labour shortages in hospitality exist, in part, because it is so hard to sustain a living on these jobs.  It is crucial that hospitality workers have a sustainable future if the industry intends to grow.  I’m excited to be part of a union that makes a sustainable future for hospitality workers possible.