After strike at hotel with ties to Stanford, workers reach agreement with management

Dec. 2, 2019, 7:08 p.m.

According to Casey Vanderveen, a day’s job at Rosewood Hotel Georgia (RHG) in Vancouver, Canada involves fending off sexual assault from wealthy clients, wading through rooms filled with drugs and resisting hotel ownership that she says seeks to silence her and other hotel employees. 

Vanderveen, a server, told The Daily that she has been sexually assaulted multiple times by hotel guests. The most recent incident, she said, involved a male guest grabbing her, kissing her nonconsensually and biting her neck. Afterwards, he gave her the middle finger and smiled. 

“When I told my manager, he told me he had bigger fires to put out,” Vanderveen said. “‘I have bigger priorities,’ is what he said verbatim. He didn’t realize how traumatizing that was. He didn’t bother to find me afterwards. I think that’s just the culture here.”

RHG is part of the international Rosewood Hotels brand, along with the Stanford-owned Rosewood Sand Hill (RSH) in Menlo Park. In early November, workers from RHG visited Stanford to raise awareness about their fight and call on Stanford to take action against RHG’s working conditions. 

RHG workers striked for nearly 60 days and filed five human rights complaints against the hotel for sexual assault.

On Nov. 16, however, employees reached an agreement with management to improve working conditions in the hotel, according to Michelle Travis. Travis is a representative of British Columbia’s union for hotel and hospitality workers, Unite Here Local 40.

Sharan Pawa, another representative of the union, told The Daily that most workers are happy with the agreement, and that a majority of them voted to approve it in a meeting open to all RHG workers on Nov. 18. The strikers resumed work on Nov. 20, she added. 

Although Unite Here Local 40 did not release specific details from the contract, Pawa told The Daily that it provides “panic buttons” meant to help employees across departments report abuses from guests, as well as significant pay raises and expanded health care and medical benefits. 

She didn’t say whether it addressed other measures the employees have previously called for, like banning guests who have sexually harassed employees and banning retaliation against workers who come forward with allegations of managerial misconduct. However, Pawa said that all specific measures reached in the agreement will be released soon. 

Additionally, the human rights complaints previously filed — in which Vanderveen’s story is included — are still ongoing. Pawa said their case was accepted by the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal. They hope to reach a resolution on the RHG complaints soon.

Kendall Trainer, spokesperson for the North American division of the Rosewood chain, confirmed that a deal has been reached. Trainer previously told The Daily that the Rosewood company “strongly disputes” the claims made by workers about the “situation and environment at Rosewood Hotel Georgia.” She added that Rosewood took sexual harassment very seriously and that the instances of harassment like Vanderveen’s “relate solely to Rosewood Hotel Georgia, and involved conduct by guests in 2018 or earlier … not recent conduct.”

Trainer also told The Daily that the RHG has implemented a workplace-safety program “designed to prevent harassment and discrimination and empower employees around these issues.”

Prior to the agreement, RHG workers demanded top-down action from the Rosewood brand and from other hotels managed by Rosewood, such as the Stanford-owned RSH. On Nov. 8, after visiting Stanford, RHG workers staged a rally outside RSH to call for the University to push the Rosewood brand to change its workplace practices.

Striking ‘to send a message’

Michael Larsen, a valet for the Rosewood hotel in Vancouver who rallied with the protesters on Nov. 8, told The Daily he had been sexually harassed multiple times by hotel guests during his eight years as a Rosewood employee. He also said he’s had to forcibly, repeatedly evict guests for inappropriate conduct toward workers, without security backup. 

“The guests here are not your regular wealthy,” Larsen said. “They are above-and-beyond wealthy people that come with their own set of rules.”

Larsen also cited an informal survey conducted by Unite Here Local 40 among hotel workers at four Vancouver hotels — RHG, Westin Bayshore, Hyatt Regency and Pinnacle Harbor Front — in which 52% of surveyed female workers reported inappropriate touching. 

After RHG workers began their strike in August, the hotel pushed back, obtaining a court order prohibiting the strikers from using megaphones and similar devices at or near the Vancouver hotel.

“The primary reason we’ve been on strike for seven weeks is to send a message — not just to our owner, but to other hotels under the Rosewood brand, and [to the] hospitality industry,” Larsen said prior to the agreement. “The hotel hasn’t acknowledged or recorded the issue, security didn’t get involved and female workers were told not to make guests uncomfortable and go back to work.”

When asked to respond to Larsen’s specific claims, Trainer reiterated that the chain takes claims of sexual harassment and discrimination seriously and the conduct in question was not recent, but did not get into details about specific allegations the RHG workers had made. 

“As an organization, Rosewood Hotels and Resorts acts with respect, professionalism and devotion to our people and maintains zero-tolerance for any discriminatory or harassing behavior,” Trainer wrote. “This commitment applies to all our hotels, without exception or qualification.”

Taking the fight to Stanford

Stanford announced in 2005 that it was working with the Rosewood to develop a Menlo Park hotel, called the Rosewood Sand Hill. Since then, RSH has become a locally famous property in the chain.

Former Rosewood CEO John Scott said in 2009 that all hotels in the chain are owned by parties that have “close relationships with Rosewood.”

Stanford spokesperson E.J. Miranda told The Daily that the University “owns a hotel on Sand Hill Road and has a long-term agreement in place with Rosewood to manage it.”

He clarified that employees at that hotel are employed by Rosewood, not Stanford, and referred questions about their employment to Rosewood.

“Stanford does not have any ownership or management role in the hotel in Canada,” he wrote. “As a general practice, the University doesn’t take positions on external issues unless they are directly related to the University’s mission.”

“Stanford has a unique opportunity because they are in a position of power over the Rosewood Sand Hill,” said Unite Here Local 40 organizer Paul Voykin. “They have the ability to pick up the phone, and call the Rosewood [brand], and tell them that they need to address this problem.”

When Larsen, Hedrlinova, Voykin and other activists came to the Stanford area for the Nov. 8 rally, they also visited campus, where they met with student activist groups including Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) and Students for Liberation of All People (SLAP).

The RHG activists also spoke on a panel and spread flyers across campus.

“The situation faced by the Rosewood Hotel workers in Vancouver is awful, and Stanford should commit to exerting influence on Rosewood Hotel Group through their business relationship to ensure that the working conditions that led them to file a human rights complaint are remedied immediately,” wrote Ph.D. student Jacob Ritchie, a member of Stanford’s YDSA, in an email to The Daily on Nov. 15.

During the rally, workers chanted, held signs and presented a large inflatable rat, a historic symbol used in labor strikes to draw attention to non-unionized workplaces. 

The fact that hotels such as RSH are non-unionized may disincentivize employees from speaking up, Larsen said. Trainer confirmed that RSH does not have a union. 

Fipe Wong, a Unite Here Local 40 organizer, told The Daily that “it’s not easy to organize non-union [workplaces] because … the company will go after the workers when you organize them. Hotels don’t want unions in their properties … because people, they have a voice. They will stand up and fight.”

Wong added that by coming to the Bay Area, RHG workers hoped to demonstrate solidarity with RSH workers while also mobilizing the Stanford community.

“The goal is to get as many students as possible involved,” she said. “We’re also signing petitions. We’re going to be making a lot of noise. We hope the general manager [of the Rosewood Sand Hill] will respond, as well as the hotel owner, Stanford University.”

The activists, Trainer said, “disturb[ed] guests of Rosewood Sand Hill, sharing inaccurate and inflammatory messages regarding the current state of negotiations and issues relating to workplace harassment at Rosewood Hotel Georgia.” 

Despite the agreement that RHG workers have now reached with their hotel, Unite Here Local 40 hopes that Stanford administrators use their power to be more proactive about sexual harassment issues and worker’s rights. 

“We are still looking for Stanford as an institution to remain diligent about sexual harassment issues on campus and at other properties they are involved with, such as the Rosewood Sand Hill,” Pawa said.

Ritchie urged Stanford to be vigilant about these issues. 

“Stanford must also take steps to confirm and then prove to the community that employees of any businesses they own, such as the luxury Rosewood Sand Hill hotel and resort, do not face an overly sexualized work environment and that there are clear policies in place to prevent sexual harassment,” Ritchie said. “I think it should be up for discussion whether continuing to own an ultra-luxury resort is consistent with the University’s values and educational mission.”

Pawa also said more can be done to prevent sexual harassment in the hospitality industry at large, and predicted that the RHG agreement could have a ripple effect in other Vancouver hotels. 

The measures agreed upon at RHG are “something we feel is desperately needed in the industry,” Pawa siad. “We’d love to see those measures taken at other hotels and properties.” 

Emma Talley and Ella Booker contributed to this report.

Contact Malavika Kannan at mkannan ‘at’ and Sophia Manolis and smanolis ‘at’

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