Tucked away in the economically privileged North Shore of Metro Vancouver, Capilano University is an institution that includes the concepts of “an ethic of fairness” and “a commitment to our communities” in its strategic vision, yet the contracted cleaners on campus are currently making poverty wages. Cleaners are forced to work two, sometimes three jobs, to survive life in Metro Vancouver, an area with an ever-increasing cost of living, as wages remain stagnant. The trend of institutions contracting out labour has pushed industry standards for the private janitorial sector to rock bottom, as cleaning companies compete against each other in a competitive bidding process. This creates a “race to the bottom,” as price of the bid becomes the number one determining factor as to which company wins the contract.
However, the cleaners at Capilano University have fought back, and came together to fight for better working conditions by unionizing with SEIU Local 2. Despite an aggressive anti-union campaign their employer, Best Service Pros, waged, followed by legal challenges forcing the ballots from the vote to remain sealed for months, the cleaners did not give up. In June of 2017, the ballots were finally unsealed, and the cleaners won their union with a majority “yes” vote. The fight has continued this fall at the bargaining table. The cleaners are not alone in this fight though, as students, staff and faculty from Capilano university have stepped up with to stand in solidarity with them.
Upon finding out about this injustice, some Capilano University Students decided to come together and build a campaign to support all workers on campus. It was a facebook post that informed Leticia, a second year Creative Writing Major from Port Coquitlam, about the issue. She heard about the problem and wanted to help. Shaunti, a Global Stewardship student, attended a film screening and met some of the cleaners directly, from there she was eager to start a club, quickly pulling her friend, Daniel, on board. Shaunti, Daniel and Leticia would become the founding members of the Capilano University Student Workers Alliance group, “SWAG,” for short. From there, Mansoureh, Marjan, Elmira and Meltem wanted to volunteer for a cause they cared about, and quickly started attending club meetings. Vick, another student angry about the exploitative system all workers are subject to, soon joined as well.
The Campaign So Far
The club meets once a week, and meetings are open to all to discuss how to move the campaign forward, such as promoting the petition and open letter to more members of the Capilano University community. Club members attended a presentation from the Living Wages for Families campaign, learning more about how to pressure an institution most effectively to pay all its workers, both direct and contracted, a living wage. They have brainstormed and thought ahead, and handled logistics of event planning. The group is putting together a panel event to be taking place on Wednesday, November 22nd at 2:30pm in room LB 195 on campus at Capilano University, which will feature some of the leaders from the cleaning team at Cap U, along with another worker leader from the University of Washington who was intrinsic to the successful campaign for a minimum of $15/hour minimum wage on campus. Additionally, an organizer from the Living wage for Families campaign will speak to put everything in a broader context. Students have been very dedicated to promoting this event, talking to their teachers, classes and friends about it.
Students have also engaged directly with the President of Capilano University, Paul Dangerfield. Club members attended a “Student Voice” event, that was aimed at getting students to talk to the president about what they think would make the student experience outstanding. SWAG members feel that paying all workers on campus a living wage would improve their university experience because knowing injustices are taking place at Capilano University takes away from their educational experience. The president eventually stopped addressing the concerns students brought forward, but they were not deterred and stayed after the event to ensure a face to face conversation happened.
Looking towards the future
The goals of the group are for Capilano University to implement a Living Wages and Benefits Policy for all workers on campus, both direct and contracted, so that nobody who is a part of the campus community is forced to live in poverty. The group would like to see this movement expand to other university campuses too, as the problems with contracted and low-waged workers is not isolated to Capilano University. They plan to continue to meet, organize, and bring more students into the movement, and are looking forward to continuing to push for justice!