The hotel industry has always been an important one in Toronto, and hotel workers in Toronto have been represented since the 1890s by the predecessor unions of UNITE HERE Local 75.
A major example of Toronto’s dominance in the hotel industry is the Royal York, on Front Street. Opened in 1929 by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), it was once the biggest hotel in the British Empire, and certainly one of the most luxurious. Paul Robeson was one of many Black performers who had to use the back door to enter the hotel. In the early post-war years, most of Toronto’s large downtown hotels had unionized staff.
In 1961-62, the CPR solidified its intention to break union strength in Toronto’s hospitality industry, gripping the 1,200 members of Local 299 of the Hotel and Club Employees Union in a bitter 11-month strike. The strike divided the city, with some government officials crossing the picket line to hold meetings there.
Among its 50,000 Canadian members, UNITE HERE now represents workers at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel, a key location for many of its current campaigns, including a continent-wide effort to improve wages and working conditions for hotel workers.