The six employees of the Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at the Quay who gathered last week to discuss the impending closure of the hotel-restaurant complex have served generations of local and out-of-town guests. The restaurant and bar once served as Vancouver’s premiere window on the Columbia River, before it slid into a long, irreversible decline.
They’ve earned low pay during those years, boosted by tips, but they say they’ve stayed because they’ve enjoyed their jobs, their longtime co-workers and their customers.
Now, as the Red Lion approaches its final day of operations on Oct. 31, these six workers have turned angry at their company. Gathered around a table at the Torque coffee shop, a short walk from the Quay, they spill out their frustration over the fact that their decades of service will not translate into a single penny of severance pay. Adding to the indignity, some of them tell The Columbian, they initially were strongly led to believe that they would be given severance, only to learn later that a 2007 company policy precludes severance to part-time workers.
“We never dreamed this would happen to us,” said Kimberly Quigley, a 32-year Red Lion employee who is a banquet captain and acting banquet manager. “I cried for two days. ”
The anger extends beyond these six employees. A group of eight Red Lion employees, including four who did not join the gathering at Torque, wrote a Sept. 29 letter to executives of the Spokane-based Red Lion Hotels Corp. requesting severance for part-timers. They note that banquet and restaurant work is seasonal but that part-time workers are nevertheless valuable employees who play a role in “keeping the Red Lion competitive and our customers coming back.”
In response, they received a four-paragraph rejection letter from Beth Kemar, the chain’s senior vice president of human resources and associate general counsel.
“To my knowledge, RHLC (Red Lion Hotels Corp.) has not granted an exception to the 30-hour threshold requirement set forth in the policy since the policy was created in 2007,” Kemar wrote. “We cannot do so now, and potentially create a precedent for any future reduction-in-force.” She closed: “We hope the next month is filled with lasting memories with your fellow employees and we wish you well in the future.”
Some say the loss of their jobs and income will be a struggle and that severance would offer a much-needed financial cushion. Valerie Krasovic, a banquet server, said she is the sole provider for herself and an adult disabled son who receives no government financial assistance.
“It’s just very disappointing after 21 years of service to Red Lion,” she said of the company’s no-severance policy for part-timers.
For others, the lack of severance after decades of work at Red Lion is personally painful.
“It’s a matter of pride,” said Darren Dyer, a banquet beverage captain who has worked for the company for 28 years.
This week, Dyer and co-workers were even more indignant after reading a story in Monday’s Columbian about a committee of Red Lion’s board granting an “early bonus payment, essentially a 20 percent advance on a year-end bonus, to five top executives.” Red Lion President and CEO Gregory Mount received a $58,388 bonus.
Red Lion officials did not respond to numerous requests for comment.
The ill will has its origins in an Aug. 26 meeting at the Quay, at which Red Lion executives told employees that the Quay would close at the end of Oct. 31, ending more than five decades at the Terminal 1 site owned by the Port of Vancouver. The company said that 82 part-time and full-time workers would lose their jobs with the closure. The hotel’s lease with the Port of Vancouver extends to Dec. 31, but the company chose to close two months early.
The company provided a question-and-answer handout to employees at that meeting. In response to a question about severance, the handout said:
“We anticipate paying severance to those who remain employed with the Company through the November 1 layoff date in accordance with the Hotel’s severance policy.” That same day, a Red Lion spokeswoman told The Columbian that employees “will receive severance based on the number of years and responsibilities at the property.”
Carolyn Gaul, a banquet server who has spent decades with the Red Lion chain, attended that non-mandatory meeting. She recalled that Jim Baierl, human resources manager at the Quay, told employees that if they stay until closing day, “everybody who has been here a year or longer” will get severance.
Dyer didn’t attend the meeting but said Baierl told him personally not to quit early because he would then be ineligible for severance. After hearing that other employees had been notified of their severance packages, he checked back with Baierl about his own severance prospects. He recalls Baierl then telling him about the 2007 severance policy, which limits payments only to employees working 30 or more hours per week.
Gaul, 53, sees the severance policy’s exclusion of part-timers as unfair.
“I just think its crazy that somebody that’s been there (a) year and worked more than 30 hours a week is more important than someone (part time) that’s been there for years,” she said.
In an ironic twist, some part-timers are working overtime as local residents fill the hotel’s restaurant and bar for a final visit before the complex closes. Quigley, for one, said she’ll stay until closing day out of loyalty to the customers who gave her a livelihood for decades.
“I’m still going to show up for work,” Quigley said. “Our customers deserve to have one last drink or meal.”