About 40 janitors and their supporters held a rally today at the National Research Council in Halifax calling on the Prime Minister to practice what he preaches. They are denouncing the termination of unionized cleaning positions that provide yearly pay increases, paid sick days and benefits. The NRC, an agency of the Federal Government, will be replacing them with a non-union contractor that pays poverty wages and doesn’t provide employment benefits.
“It’s time the Prime Minister and the Liberals practice what they preach,” said Omar Joof, a Halifax area cleaner and leader in the Justice for Janitors movement. “They should help create good jobs in Halifax – not destroy them.”
“The Federal Liberals promised to stand-up for the middle-class and those working hard to join them,” said MLA Dave Wilson, the NDP Nova Scotia House Leader. “Replacing decent unionized cleaning jobs at the NRC with a poverty wage contractor is not a very prudent approach to fulfill that promise.”
The cleaning contract at 1411 Oxford St. was recently awarded to Imperial Cleaners Limited through a competitive bidding process. They take over the contract on Monday. The cleaners’ union, the Service Employees International Union Local 2, reached out to the federal agency earlier this week to communicate that the NRC should require the new contractor to offer employment to the current employees at 1411 Oxford St. and recognize their collective agreement.
In an email response to SEIU, the NRC has said that they have “no capacity to dictate who the bidder hires beyond the terms of the Request for Proposal. There is nothing in the Request for Proposal requiring the winning bidder to hire the existing workers.”
SEIU points out this is a problem – the government’s bidding process should consider working conditions and labour rights and not simply award contracts to the lowest bidder. The union has reached out to the three ministers responsible for the NRC: Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, and Bardish Chagger, Minister of Small Business and Tourism.
Tanya Kelsey, one of three workers displaced as a result of the contract change, learned last week she’d be transferred to another site. She was approaching her one-year anniversary at the location. “I worked hard for the people in this building,” she said. “It’s not just about the money to me. When a place is clean and organized, it’s a happy place and a space where people can work well.” Kelsey said if she could stay working at the NRC building, with a union, and with her collective bargaining agreement, she would.
As per their union collective agreement, Tanya and her co-workers have been offered work at other locations by their employer, GDI Integrated Facility Services. However the replacement janitors at the NRC will most likely make poverty wages, won’t have benefits or paid sick days, nor will they have the benefit of a union contract.
“The fact is, that as of right now, there are three fewer good jobs in Halifax and the Federal government is responsible for that,” said Joof.