Cleaners get organized and inspire community support
Ottawa-When workers stick together we can win! It doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves of this important lesson.
In mid-November, a number of janitors working at three different locations in Ottawa were told they would be out of a job by December 1st when Jani-King Inc. took over the cleaning contracts.
The cleaners all worked in properties managed by Colliers International, a large real estate firm. In 2015 alone, Colliers Canada concluded more than 4,600 sale and lease transactions on behalf of investors and occupiers totaling some US$7.8 billion across Canada.[i]
This wouldn’t be the first time cleaners would have a fight with Jani-King in Ottawa. In 2014, Jani-King was found to have violated the Labour Relations Act for “refusing to offer employment to former Impact employees employed at 340 Laurier Ave. … because they were members of a union.”[ii]
Cleaners and their allies gathered and prepared for a fight. They were looking at unemployment just weeks before the Winter Holidays. But when the dust had settled less than two weeks later, all the cleaners had retained their jobs and protected the improvements they had fought so hard to win over the years.
“I’m very, very happy about this victory,” said Wayne Jamieson, who works at one of the locations. “It makes a big difference for someone my age and in my situation. This victory proves having a union is a very good thing.”
Community Pressure Saves Good Jobs
Maria and Horia Tomas have been working at 1150 Morrison Drive for seven years. Horia was forced to continue working after his retirement to make ends meet. Maria didn’t know how they would survive if they lost their jobs. The cleaning contract had changed before, but they had always retained their jobs. Jani-King was the first cleaning contractor that was not planning to keep them on.
Jamieson works at 39 & 49 Camelot Drive and is nearing retirement. “While I still work hard, it’s less physically demanding than my old construction job and I can still provide for myself,” he said. At 59 years of age, Wayne knows he’s too young to retire, but would have had a very hard time finding new employment.
Justice for Janitors quickly reached out to the elementary school teachers union (Ottawa Carleton ETFO/FEEO), one of the tenants at 1150 Morrison. They spoke to Colliers and other tenants about the injustice that was about to take place.
A couple of days later, a diverse contingency of workers and community members gathered for a rally at one of the buildings to express support for the cleaners and to demand that the property manager retain a responsible contractor that respects workers’ rights. More rallies were planned for the near future – but they weren’t needed.
The strength of the community – that is, the elementary and high school teachers (ETFO/FEEO and OSSTF), university students (CFS), postal workers (CUPW), teaching and research assistants from Carleton University (CUPE 4600), members of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) Canada, Fight for $15 and Fairness Ottawa, the Ottawa District Labour Council (ODLC) and other allies– was felt. Together, we made an impact.
The following week Justice for Janitors was notified that workers at all three locations would be retained and that Jani-King were no longer getting the contracts. Victory!
Workers are keeping jobs that pay $12.25 per hour, provide raises twice a year, sick days, paid personal days and enhanced vacation pay. They are also scheduled to start receiving medical benefits in 2018.
“We want to thank all the workers from diverse walks of life who supported us. We are so relieved and happy that we are able to keep our jobs as well as the improvements we have obtained over the years,” said Maria Toma.
“We encourage all non-union cleaners in this city to join Justice for Janitors so that they too can experience the gains, protections and support that we have. Long live the union and all workers!” said Horia Toma.
We’re not guaranteed to win every battle – but if we don’t stand together and fight, we will never win a single thing.