“We were at the picket line again to show our determination to continue this fight and we won great support from the residents.”Francesco Lombardo, West End Quay concierge, UVW rep and striker
July saw the second round of strikes at West End Quays, the exclusive luxury apartment complex in central London. The 5 day strike action culminated in a picket outside the Hilton Metropole to coincide with the apartment complex’s Right To Manage (RTM) Annual General meeting (AGM).
Our members, the outsourced cleaners and concierge workers, had no option but to call for this second round of strike action because invitations to further negotiate were rejected by the facilities contractor Lee Baron and by extension RTM, their ‘client’. The WEQ strikers wanted to appeal to the AGM attendees, WEQ residents, to use their vote at the AGM to authorise contractor Lee Baron to go back to the table to meaningfully negotiate with them. At the picket line they discovered the residents are fully behind them and their demands. The workers and Lee Baron’s positions are so close right now that a settlement could easily be reached but Lee Baron has flatly rejected their offers with RTM stating that permission had not been given to strike a new deal.
The picket was lively and friendly – a la UVW – and despite the initial back and forth with the hotel’s security guards who were on full alert, our members and their supporters were able to dance to music in good spirits and to speak to a lot of residents. The WEQ workers explained their demands and why they are on strike as well as dispelling the misrepresentations made by Lee Baron and the RTM.
Francesco Lombardo, West End Quay concierge, UVW rep and striker, said: “We were at the picket line again to show our determination to continue this fight and we won great support from the residents. Our interaction with residents and leaseholders was excellent and our message was that we are more united than ever to claim our rights. We are no longer invisible.”
To everybody’s delight, the residents were almost without exception supportive of the demands and keen to see the dispute wrapped up in the workers’ favor. They also seemed generally angry with the handling of the dispute by Lee Baron. UVW has seen an email circulated in advance of the AGM, where the residents ask the RTM board about the “WEQ staff industrial action” stating: “We have to say that we are not happy with the new managing agent Lee Baron, and the way that they are treating the staff where they feel the need to join a union to take appropriate action…”
The workers’ first strike action in June saw UVW pushing Lee Baron to offer an 8% pay rise, but the contractor’s only partial return of the Christmas bonus and their refusal to harmonise the worker’s annual leave and sick pay was rejected by the workers, who have put two better options on the table but have heard nothing back.
Many of the apartments are investments for the freeholders that are rented out and the owners draw a high income of thousands of pounds from them. The workers’ demands could be met by a modest increase of some £20 per month, which would not affect the residents standard of living or the rental market either, as the people who rent these places do so because they want to live in this particular and exclusive central London location in a fully serviced apartment. UVW believes that the dispute is being dragged out by the director of RTM whose sole concern is the finances of the mega rich residents rather than the just and fair demands of UVW members.
It is clear there is plenty of money at WEQ, as French MP Rachel Keke told us in the recording of a podcast during her visit and event at Casa UVW on Saturday 22 July: “When workers ask for a pay rise they say there’s no money for it but when they go on strike, the companies find the money… somewhere.”
Rachel Keke met the WEQs workers at the event in Casa UVW where they both shared their experiences of the picket line. The workers took a lot of motivation from her victorious two-year strike as a chambermaid in the Hotel Ibis in France as well her personal journey from cleaner to MP in the space of a year.
Francesco, representing the 19 workers on strike, told Rachel: “You are an inspiration and an example to us all (…) and we’re determined to keep fighting until we reach our goals.”
Watch this space for updates!