Laureen Smith (pictured left) stands with a union representative on the picket line.

Driving by the Best Western Seven Oaks on north Albert Street in Regina motorists may notice members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1400 walking the picket line. Members voted to take job action on Dec 14, 2015.


Much of the dispute between workers and management stems from some proposed changes to employee benefits. Under the previous agreement, workers paid 15 per cent of the benefits premium. In its current offer Best Western Seven Oaks is asking employees to increase their contribution to 50 per cent.


Glenn Weir, general manager of the Best Western Seven Oaks, said this would put the hotel in line with other Regina hotels that provide benefits to their employees. Weir went on to emphasize that the offer which is on the table is the “final offer.”


But employees can’t afford the premium hike, according to Norm Neault, CWUL 1400 president. Neault said half of employees already opt out of benefits because they feel they are too expensive. This works in the employers’ favour because when employees opt out, the employer no longer has to pay its share, Neault said.


As well raising the premium for benefits would basically eliminate any real wage gains for employees, he said. According to Neault this amounts to “taking money out of one pocket and putting it in another.” 


Weir said benefits are not the only contentious issue. Union access to the workplace is also on the table. Weir said that the union wants “unfettered” access to the hotel, and employees. Previously, union representatives could speak with workers while they were performing their duties. Weir said this was disruptive to the workplace.


Neault said the issue of access to the work place has been brought up by the employer as a “smokescreen.” He added restricting union access makes it harder for the union to communicate with and engage members.


Benefits and union access to the workplace are issues across the board in labour relations, according to Andrew Stevens a professor of business at the University of Regina.


Stevens, who specializes in labour relations, agreed with the union position that increased benefits payments, alongside cost of living increases, could easily wipe out any real wage gains. Employees were “being asked to give up something,” he said.


Stevens added that in workplaces like hotels, which have many part-time workers and high employee turnover, union access is important. “No union wants to be dependent on management for access,” he said.


As for how long he sees the strike going on, Stevens said he believes that “management has the upper hand.” For this to change, he said there needs to be support from labour activists and the public.


“People shouldn’t have to choose between a wage increase and benefits,” he said.