Shortly after the publication of this story, BC Housing reached out to Victoria Buzz to confirm that they are looking to re-hire Comfort Inn employees to help run the temporary housing program.
“BC Housing is looking forward to bringing many of these workers on as part of our team – they have skills that we’re looking for to help run these temporary accommodations,” reads a statement from the organization.
“We are in the process of reaching out to them now.”
Based on this new information that was also recently sent to employees in an internal email, some have raised concerns about working with homeless populations, many of whom suffer from severe mental health issues and addiction.
However, refusing this new job offer from BC Housing could mean no severance pay and could also disqualify employees from availing federal and provincial financial benefits meant to alleviate income loss induced by the restrictions put in place due to COVID-19.
BC Housing has yet to respond to these concerns.
On Friday morning, the manager of the food and beverage program at Comfort Inn & Suites, Ryan Smith, woke up to messages from friends urging him to check social media.
Over the internet, he found out that he was, most likely, permanently out of a job.
Like many workers in the hotel and restaurant industry Smith, along with 95 per cent of staff at the hotel had been laid off at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the expectation of being rehired once the crisis had been averted, to some degree.
What none of them saw coming was its owner selling the property to the provincial government for $18.5 million and not informing any employees of this decision.
Earlier today, the provincial government announced that the Comfort Inn & Suites hotel on Blanshard Street in Victoria had been purchased for the purpose of temporarily sheltering homeless people from the Topaz Park and Pandora Ave encampments.
Smith and other employees suspect the owner has been working on selling the business for at least a few weeks — a suspicion that was confirmed by a BC Housing spokesperson on Friday afternoon.
Despite the news of the sale going public, existing staff have not yet received any official word from hotel management about their employment status or severance pay.
Hotel owner Nikki Babie has not been taking calls and her voicemail is full with messages from employees desperate for more information.
One of the employees, a front desk attendant who had been working at the hotel for two decades, reportedly showed up for work as early as this morning, but still was not told about the sale of the property by management.
“They’re all hurt and upset”
“Since all of that’s happened, the HR contacted me from the hotel and they said they’re preparing letters to inform employees what’s going on,” says Clayton Rourke, a kitchen supervisor who worked under Smith.
He was told that news of the sale was not supposed to go public which is why it is taking time for hotel management to get back to employees, but says he suspects this might not be true.
“They told me not to talk to the news, which makes me more suspicious of what they’re doing,” added Rourke. “It makes me wonder what’s actually been going on.”
Meanwhile, despite being left in the dark himself, Smith took it upon himself to personally contact employees who worked under him to let them know about the news.
“I didn’t want them to find out the same way I found out, via the internet,” said Smith.
“They’re all hurt and upset. They’ve all worked in this place for quite some time, which in this industry is hard to do. They felt a sense of comfort and safety in their employment there.”
He approximates that about 106 people will be out of a job once they are finally contacted by the hotel’s former owner.
“There’s been no official word or comment from the company,” says Smith when asked how he knows for sure that he, and others, would be out of a job.
“But I’ve been removed from all administrative rights on website and social media for the company, and the owner has since blocked me on Facebook. It’s pretty clear cut to me that I’m not returning.”
Smith says he does not fault hotel owner Nikki Babie for her decision to sell the business, but is hurt by the knowledge that she did not inform her staff about it.
“It just seems shocking that humanity was ignored here, it just seems crazy.”
With the food and tourism sector already reeling from the effects of COVID-19, Smith expects that he and his fellow employees from Comfort Inn will be hard pressed to find a job in the future.
Victoria Buzz has attempted to contact former hotel owner Nikki Babie several times, but she did not respond to requests for information.