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Campbell River's Coast Discovery Inn was supposed to stay open forever

The owner of the Coast Discovery Inn says he’s going to close it down. - Kristen Douglas/The Mirror
The owner of the Coast Discovery Inn says he’s going to close it down.
— image credit: Kristen Douglas/The Mirror

When the Coast Discovery Inn opened 51 years ago, the keys were thrown into the ocean in a symbolic gesture that the hotel doors should never be closed.

Now the current owner of the hotel is threatening to break that promise.

On Jan. 6, Sukhy Bains, owner and general manager of the Coast Discovery Inn, gave notice to the health and hospitality union, Unite Here Local 40, that he intends to close the hotel March 7 due to financial losses, putting approximately 35 workers out of work.

But Shelly Ervin, an officer with the Unite Here Local 40 union, is skeptical Bains will permanently shut down the hotel.

“He has made comments he wants to open non-union so he doesn’t have to pay the employees a decent wage or benefits,” Ervin said. “These benefits are the same as approximately 60 properties throughout B.C. including the Quinsam Hotel in Campbell River.

“It does not make sense that the hotel will close prior to the busy season, especially since he has recently put money into the hotel to renovate it.”

If the hotel is shuttered, it will be an unfortunate twist of irony. The Discovery Inn opened on June 16, 1963 – one year after the opening of Tyee Plaza – to an open house attended by more than 4,000 people. During the opening ceremony, hotel manager Gordon Jennings presented Village Chairman R.D. Jamieson with a key to unlock the padlocked front doors. After the doors were unlocked, the key was thrown into the ocean to signal that from that day forward the doors of the Discovery Inn should always be open.

In 1965, a distinctive, six-storey annex was added to the Discovery Inn which made Campbell River’s first luxury hotel the second largest hotel on Vancouver Island next to the Empress Hotel in Victoria.

Owned by Delta Hotels, the hotel switched hands several times and was owned by Coast Hotels, a Japanese investment company, OKABE Company, and eventually Bains.

Now, Ervin said Bains doesn’t seem interested in working with the union to save the hotel.

“The union has repeatedly asked to meet with the owner Sukhy Bains since the fall of 2012 to see if there was a solution. So far he has refused to meet,” Ervin said. “In fact, we had a meeting scheduled for Monday, Jan. 6 which Mr. Bains cancelled a few days in advance and instead he called a staff meeting and gave them their notice.

“This is clear Mr. Bains has never had any intention of meeting with the union. We see this as nothing more than union busting to drive down workers’ wages in Campbell River.”

Ervin said the union believes that Bains’ actions are in violation of B.C. Labour Laws.

“We believe the owner has acted contrary to B.C. law and the union will respond accordingly,” Ervin said.

If a Labour Relations complaint is filed, it won’t be the first time Bains has had to deal with the B.C. Labour Relations Board.

On Jan. 9, 2013 Bains assembled the hotel’s 20 food and beverage workers in a room at the hotel and gave each employee a letter notifying them that their services would no longer be needed.

“It is with great sadness I regret to inform you that the Coast Discovery Inn Food and Beverage Departments will be closing as of Friday, Jan. 18, 2013. Your position will be finished (as) of that date. Due to economic reasons, I can no longer afford to continue with this area of the hotel,” reads the letter.

Seven months later, on Aug. 15, the B.C. Labour Relations Board ruled that Bains had breached Section 54 of the Labour Relations Code because he did not give 60 days notice to the Unite Here union.

He was ordered by Leah Terai, vice-chair of the board, to pay the affected employees’ wages and benefits based on what they received in January, February and March of 2012.

Ervin said Bains still has not paid the employees those lost wages. And now he’s planning to part ways with the union altogether by possibly closing the hotel.

Mayor Walter Jakeway said that would not be surprising.

“The closure is disappointing, but not unexpected, as the Tyee mall itself is having financial difficulties, and this is the lean time of year for tourists,” Jakeway said. “The 2013-2014 construction surge in Campbell River gives a false indication that the economy is all well and good. It is not. The retail/service sectors have continued to struggle. It is hoped that the (Discovery Inn) will re-open in the future as many citizens depend on it for employment and the DI has been a centrepiece of Campbell River for five decades.”

Meanwhile, Ervin said the hotel employees are doing everything they can to keep their jobs, and are in the process of trying to break from the union.

“The threat of closing has scared the workers to file a decertification application in the hopes of hanging onto their jobs,” Ervin said.

Bains could not be reached for comment before the Mirror went to press.

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