Delta balances labour issues with renovations 

Variance could be model for other hotels in years to come

The Delta Whistler Resort is entering a complex transitional phase, which will force the management to temporarily layoff more than 85 staff while the hotel is renovated and re-branded.

To facilitate this unique staffing arrangement the hotel’s management applied to the B.C. Ministry of Skills and Labour, and have been successful in gaining, a variance on B.C. labour law.

The ministry granted the Delta the variance last week and it is due to take effect early in May, which is when the renovations begin, and stay in effect until November, when the hotel re-opens. Renovations, however, will continue to the fall of 2005.

This variance was vital because it means many of the employees will be allowed to return to the hotel next November without losing their benefits or their positions.

It’s also a major boon for the hotel because it means management does not have to pay thousands of dollars in severance pay and completely re-staff the hotel once the renovations are completed.

The manager of the hotel, Ken Cretney, said the hotel would also be temporarily renamed in anticipation of Hilton’s arrival.

The deal is not sealed yet, but Hilton is expected to re-brand the Delta in the fall of 2005, which is when all the renovations are to be completed.

Cretney admitted it had been a difficult situation to manage because there had been a number of ongoing developments in a short period of time.

"With B.C. labour law, if employees are not working for anything over 13 weeks it’s considered termination," Cretney said.

"We asked to apply for a variance, which would give our employees a recall so they could keep their rate of pay.

"We said to every employee, ‘you have the choice to take severance or you could come back with your present length of service’.

"And we had tremendous buy in on that."

It is true that more than 90 per cent of the employees in the hotel voted for the variance, but some employees were initially unhappy with the process.

One employee, Michelene Skakoon, wrote a letter to Pique Newsmagazine outlining a number of concerns. Skakoon said she was motivated to write the letter because she wanted to "light a cracker under the management," but she has since conceded the management of the hotel have dealt with many of the staff’s concerns.

"We were given one week to sign the variance or our employment would be automatically terminated on May 17. They got their majority share of signatures because most people signed it out of fear or ignorance and to buy time," Skakoon said in the letter.

"The Westin, the Fairmont and the Delta Village Suites (which has no food & beverage department) held interviews but all they could offer were temporary, casual or contract jobs… They deliberately kept the staff away from the option of more permanent or comparable employment to serve only their own needs.

"This increased the likelihood of staff returning and, consequently, not collecting their severance pay because nothing better came along."

Skakoon’s concerns should be expected in any transition of this size but the hotel’s management have remained open to criticism and welcomed scrutiny regarding their actions.

"As we go through this transition our hope is that we can get the information to the employees as accurately and to the best of our knowledge at that time," Cretney said.

"Yes, we’re all busy as a team and we’re trying to keep employees well informed to look after their best interests.

"But it is a transition and it’s a big transition."

Gordon Williams, from the Ministry of Skills and Labour, said his department awarded the Delta the variance only after it looked at how it would affect the employees.

"The employer wanted to recall people and they were going to maintain their benefits, but the employees were also given a chance to leave and be paid a severance," Williams said.

"We determined that the hotel was heading in a direction that had mutual benefits to the employees and the hotel."

Williams said the hotel had also done the right thing in inviting an industrial relations officer to answer some of the staff’s questions.

The Delta is just one of several hotels in Whistler that will be renovated before 2010 and Williams said other hotel management companies would do well to take note of how the Delta has dealt with their staff.

"We looked at the hotel’s terms and their processes and it seems to be a very up-front process."


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