UNITE HERE Local 75, Chinese Workers Network
A member-leader of UNITE HERE Local 75, Helen Liu was a natural born leader known for her vivacious character and laughter.
Formerly a music teacher in her home country, China, Helen came to Canada in 1989. She worked at the Royal York as a room attendant but due to her ability to make others feel welcomed, she moved to work in the employee cafeteria. With her hard work of organizing and kindness, Helen rose through the ranks as one of the most respected leaders at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel. She became a trusted negotiating committee member, and joined the Executive Board/Solidarity Committee of Local 75 where her contributions were highly valued.
Helen was a tireless advocate for those whose first language was not English; she brought together members of all ethnic groups to work together towards a common cause. As a leader of the Hotel Workers Rising movement, Helen helped to shine a spotlight on the invisible work of women across Toronto who clean hotel rooms. She helped build a strong union movement inside the Royal York and across the city. Speaking Mandarin, Cantonese and English, Helen spoke out about the challenges for immigrant workers in Toronto. In 2007, her activism was recognized with the Access Equity & Human Rights Awards at the City of Toronto and she was awarded the Constance E Hamilton Award on the Status of Women.
Helen was also one of the founding members of the Chinese Workers Network and served as a key spokesperson for immigrant rights and the Hotel Workers Rising campaign for many years. Helen has made countless presentations about the realities and difficulties of immigrating to Toronto and working in the service sector.
After her retirement from the hotel industry, Helen was actively involved in organizing Chinese seniors in the Ontario Chinese Seniors Association which has over 1200 members in the GTA. From actively campaigning together with all seniors for transit justice and transit affordability to teaching seniors to sing the lyrics to O’Canada when they don’t speak a word of English, Helen worked tirelessly even in retirement for social justice. Accompanied by Helen as their accordionist, the Chinese seniors’ choir performed at the Day of Mourning and Chinese Railroad Workers commemoration ceremonies on July 1st.
Helen inspired others to take leadership and volunteer in our labour movement and the broader movement for social justice. It is worth noting that all of her leadership was on a volunteer basis, raising the bar for what it means to be a union activist and inspiring others to do the same to build our movement. Her leadership was recognized in 2017 as a recipient of the Bromley Lloyd Armstrong Award.
In June 2017, just a few months before she passed away, she was interviewed by the Chinese Workers’ Network Workers’ Podcast series where she spoke in Mandarin about the need for immigrant workers to organize and be represented by a union.
Helen passed away in December 2017. She united everyone with her infectious smile and laugh, and was always quick to share a hilarious story when the conversations and situations got tough!