Pelican Resort workers reach boiling pointPOSTED: 01/27/11 2:40 PM
St. Maarten / By Milton G Pieters – Scores of Pelican Resort workers stormed the hotel’s lobby on Wednesday morning to show they were still interested in working there despite a January 25th memo by the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Royal Resorts Caribbean Richard Corso that they could not return unless they were invited. Office workers, cleaners, casual workers and security personnel were amongst those who showed up at the resort.
Only a handful of staff were present at 7:00 a.m., but a mass of people had assembled by 9:30 a.m. Security guards, who worked for the hotel, found they’d been replaced by Sheriff Security and all were told they could not enter. People generally milled about the property and member of the management, identified only as Mr. Rodriguez, kept a watchful eye on what was taking place.
One employee who did not want to be identified said, “He simply wanted to know who authorized the workers to assemble.”
As the morning wore on staffers assembled more and more and eventually all decided they’d march to the hotel’s lobby to grab the hotel management’s attention. Social and political activist Eldrige Van Putten joined them on the march, and became a spokesman once they’d entered the lobby. The march to the lobby included some shouting when employees spotted subcontractors cleaning hotel rooms on one of the property’s upper floors and told them to leave the premises.
Support for the employees has been given by time share owners. Judy Martina, who visits from New Jersey annually with her husband, teared up when she learned the reason for the employee’s protest.
“My husband and I have owned a business for 38 years and if we had to get rid of staff, we would do so individually, but not the entire staff at the same time. That is not fair. There is something sinister going on here and I think that the government should do something about it because these are hard working people. What are they supposed to do next,” she said.
More guests who streamed through the lobby had a similar reaction with one man saying, “This could not have happened where I come from. This is absolute chaos.”
National Alliance Member of Parliament Frans Richardson was the first on scene Wednesday. He listened to the workers, pledged his support and called for his colleagues across the various parliamentary factions to do the same.
“Enough is enough! We need to stand up together and I am calling on all of my colleagues on the other side so that we can get together and move forward with the people who have given 25 years and more to the Pelican. I don’t think the workers should go home, they need to stay here protest and need to support them,” Richardson said.
Police eventually turned up at the property in force, but adopted the position of observers, before they too simply left the workers to their peaceful protest.
President of the Windward Islands Teachers Union (WITU) who is also First Vice Chairman of the Windward Islands Chamber of Labor Unions (WICLU) Claire Elshot joined the workers at the hotel lobby for a time. She said she was shocked by the Public Notice urging employees to put in applications and said their situation shows that something is wrong with the island’s labor market.
“This is definitely sad news and I am calling on the government to do their part and lead by example,” Elshot said.
“We shall not be moved”
Several minutes after Elshot left Managing Director of the both the new ownership company and management company Jules James. Van Putten stepped forward and told him that the resort’s workers will continue to apply pressure in an orderly and forceful manner. He also labeled their protest as an example for all the island’s hotel workers.
After talking with Van Putten, James told employees their union had filed an injunction and he urged them to let that process play out. His statement on the injunction is incorrect as Wim van San Beek and Maarten le Poole, who have been retained by Wifol, spent the day gathering information. They expect to submit their petition for summary proceedings to the court Thursday afternoon. Their core argument is that the staffers were taken into the employ of the new company at the moment on December 16 (see related story).
James’ request that employees leave the lobby was met with shouts of “Never. Never” and “No sir. No sir.” Several female staffers also began singing, “I shall not, I shall not be moved.”
He replied, “I can only ask you nicely and peacefully to do so, but if you think that you should be here, obviously I am not going to hold you by the hand and put you out I was just making a recommendation.”