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Migrant Workers@ Denny's: Equal in Rights? - March 23, 2011

Demo @ Denny's - March 26, 2011

Against the backdrop of the 13th Metropolis Conference in Vancouver B.C., UFCW Canada and Migrante BC hosted a standing room only press conference on March 23, 2011 — Migrant Workers@ Denny’s: Equal in Rights?  Three days later it was followed by a Demo@Dennys in front of a Denny’s restaurant in downtown Vancouver.

Both events were held to show national and international solidarity with the Denny’s workers, and to raise public awareness of the $10 Million lawsuit filed by representative plaintiff Herminia Dominguez on behalf of migrant workers at Denny’s Restaurant in British Columbia. Northland Properties Corporation’s is the parent company of Dencan Restaurants which holds the franchise rights to operate Denny’s Restaurants in Western Canada.

Present at the press conference were members and supporters of Migrante BC, leadership and activists from across the country from UFCW Canada, as well as the media, community activists, academics and the general public.

Speaking at the press conference were Naveen P. Mehta, HRED Director, UFCW Canada; Maita Santiago, Migrante BC; Christopher J. Foy, Kestrel Workplace Legal Counsel and co-counsel on the lawsuit, and Herminia Dominguez, the Representative Plaintiff for the Denny’s class action lawsuit.  Marisa Berry Mendez, settlement policy director for Canadian Council for Refugees spoke eloquently on the upcoming changes to the federal TFWP and what that will mean for migrant workers in Canada.

Brother Mehta facilitated the press conference and provided a backgrounder on the TFWP, highlighting the 2011 UFCW Canada National Report on the Status of Migrant Workers in Canada, and emphasized UFCW Canada’s firm belief that if we are going to effect progressive change, we can only do so it together as community activists, academics, and unions.  

“The TFWP Program is portrayed by the Canadian Government at Metropolis, and to governments around the World, as a finely manicured garden blossoming with opportunity and prosperity for workers taking part.  Upon closer inspection, it is revealed instead to be rife with prickly weeds of rampant abuse of workers and deliberate state myopia when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable,” said Mehta.  “At best, it is modern day indentured servitude. At worst, it is akin to modern day slavery.”

As representative of Migrante BC, Maita Santiago pointed out that the recourse to the chronic crisis of migrant worker abuse calls for “continually raising public awareness, organizing public events and mobilizing supporters because workers can no longer depend on the Canadian and Philippine governments to assist them - it is up to the workers, the people, the Union, and the advocates to work together to advance the rights and welfare of migrant workers.”

As one of co- counsel handling the class action lawsuit, Christopher Foy laid out the legal aspects of a class action lawsuit during his presentation, noting that the Supreme Court of Canada has recognized that there is an imbalance in power between an employer and an employee especially in a non-unionized environment, and that there is a duty of good faith with respect to anyone’s employment contracts.

The primary guest at the forum was Herminia Dominguez, the representative plaintiff, who gave her personal insight into the status and rights of foreign workers in Canada and their limited rights as compared to permanent residents or Canadian citizens. She described her involvement in the case as a big decision since many of her colleagues were afraid to stand up for their rights. “I’m going to do this for myself, for my colleagues, and for their families and for my family.”

On the closing day of the Metropolis Conference, March 26, the Denny’s campaign took to the streets as UFCW Canada activists joined Migrante BC, and other community allies for a protest in front of Denny’s restaurant in downtown Vancouver. About 100 protesters joined in the loud yet peaceful demonstration in support of the lawsuit. Many passers-by who were informed about the case expressed their outright disdain over Denny’s position, and vowed not to patronize Denny’s.

“As the largest private sector union in Canada, UFCW Canada has wholeheartedly endorsed this case.  The actions alleged are despicable to say the least.  As our legal record indicates, UFCW Canada does not cower when it comes to taking on big government or big business.” says Wayne Hanley, National President of UFCW Canada. “We know that case of the Denny’s Workers is merely the tip of the iceberg as the TFWP, by design, puts migrant workers in the most vulnerable positions in Canada.”

Altogether the voices of activists, advocates, and leaders from Migrante BC, UFCW Canada, the AWA, the NDP, academia, and all those enraged by Denny’s treatment of migrant workers, sent the company a clear message — that migrant workers at Denny’s are not alone in their fight. 

UFCW Canada Local 401’s secretary treasurer, Theresa McLaren, was a member of the UFCW Canada contingent at the protest. “It was incredibly inspiring to see so many rally around the fact that the
far-right agenda of exploitation, indentureship and outright corporate greed that form the backbone of the Canadian Temporary Foreign Workers Program, is an unacceptable abuse of human rights and a national embarrassment,” said Sister McLaren.



Vol. XI No. 15 • April 11, 2011