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'They are shocked': 80 workers face unemployment as Dartmouth hotel converts into provincial shelter

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The union representing 80 food service, housekeeping and maintenance workers at the Doubletree by Hilton hotel in Dartmouth, N.S., says many are about to lose their jobs at the end of April.

“They are shocked,” says Lionel MacEachern of United Food & Commercial Workers Canada. “And I feel for the workers – some of them have 41, 42 years [of] service.”

The property is owned by Toronto-based acquisition and development firm Manga Hotels, which also operates several other Halifax-area hotels.

Last week, Nova Scotia’s Minister of Community Services, Karla MacFarlane, confirmed the province is negotiating with Manga to expand the number of homeless Nova Scotians being provided with a place to stay at the hotel through the province’s shelter diversion program.

MacEachern says in the workers’ collective agreement the employer only offers severance if the hotel is completely shut down. The fact that the hotel is transitioning into a shelter, means employees don’t qualify.

The union is trying to change that.

“And I understand that the homeless is an issue,” he says. “However, we still have to look out for the workers and their rights, and hopefully the company will come around, maybe with some assistance from government to give some money for a severance so they can move on with their lives and decide whatever they want to do.”

He says the changes came as a shock to the members, as their employer previously told them the hotel would resume normal operations once its current housing agreement with the province ended at the end of April.

His understanding is that the new contract being negotiated would convert the entire hotel – 204 rooms – into a provincial shelter for 11 months.

“At the end of the month, there’s going to be a layoff notice for all food and beverage workers,” MacEachern says.

“We do not know what’s going on with housekeeping yet because we’ve been waiting for the company and government to finalize their deal.”

The province has said very little about the negotiations and declined CTV’s request for an interview with MacFarlane Thursday.

Christina Deveau, the spokesperson for the Department of Community Services, told CTV News by email it will “have information about new initiatives to share soon.”

When asked about what would happen to the hotel’s staff, Deveau wrote, “Community Services is working closely with the management of our hotel partner to ensure that there is a smooth transition for staff. All employees impacted have been offered alternate employment opportunities.”

MacEachern says that’s not what workers have been telling him, although he says some may stay on depending on what’s needed to operate the shelter, while others may find work at other hotels.

The NDP MLA for Dartmouth North, Susan LeBlanc, was pressing the government for more details this week before the spring session at Province House ended Wednesday.

“We've heard lots of rumours and the government has not been forthright with any information,” she says.

“We keep being told we’re going to hear soon, but that doesn’t allow for any input into what’s happening,” she adds. “Obviously we don’t want to make decisions that are going to cause more people to become homeless, and to not be able to pay their rent.”

LeBlanc wants to know what’s going to happen to the staff, how much the contract will cost, and what the long-term plan is.

“If there is an announcement about government taking over this hotel to house more homeless people, then we want to know what the end strategy is. We want to hear the plan for permanent solutions to the housing problem,” LeBlanc says.

According to its website, Manga Hotels intends to eventually build a three-tower development directly behind its hotel.

The city confirms a development application has been submitted for the plot of land at the north end of Best Street, which is currently under review.

CTV News contacted Manga’s director of operations for an interview, but Warren Bowles only said negotiations had been finalized, and had no other comment.

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