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Cleaners employed at Capilano University won their right to join SEIU Local 2 and its Justice for Janitors campaign earlier this month. The BC Labour Board ordered ballots cast by 27 out of 29 cleaners on February 20, 2017 to be unsealed.
The union vote was won by an overwhelming majority despite an anti-union fear campaign waged by the boss during the 10 days before the vote.
“This is an important victory,” says Cherish Lazo who is a member of the newly formed Bargaining Committee. “The wait was extremely frustrating, but now, all we can think of, is starting to make improvements at work.”
Best Service Pros, the contractor that represents cleaners at Capilano University and other post-secondary institutions, put up numerous legal objections at the Labour Board to prevent workers from joining SEIU Local 2, the most significant objection being the proliferation of bargaining units.
SEIU Local 2 legal counsel was successful in arguing that the proliferation of bargaining units could not apply in this case because Best Service Pros entered into a Voluntary Recognition Agreement (VRA) with CLAC as recently as 2016, despite having bargaining relationships with two other unions.
In June 2016, Best Service Pros, upon learning they were awarded the cleaning contract at Langara College, contacted CLAC. Best and CLAC negotiated a 10 year agreement with minimal wage increases and no benefits before any worker was hired and later presented the contract to the newly employed cleaners at Langara College.
This contract was extended to workers at BCIT in November of 2016 at an Orientation meeting and in March of 2017 at Vancouver Community College, after Best Service Pros became aware that SEIU Local 2 were actively organizing Best cleaners across the city.
Meanwhile, as workers at Capilano University waited for a decision from the Labour Board, they remained active and steadfast in their wishes to form a union. In April, the workers delivered a petition to their boss signed by 25 cleaners asking Best Service Pros to drop their legal objections at the Labour Board and allow the ballots to be counted.
The delivery of the cleaner’s petition was done in conjunction with letters of support from other unions on campus. MoveUp and CUPE Local 1004 sent letters to Capilano University President, Paul Dangerfield, urging the university to leverage Best Service Pros to drop its legal challenges and respect the worker’s choice to join SEIU Local 2.
“We want to join the Justice for Janitors movement so together, we can negotiate for livable wages and a benefit plan,” said Mcjusto Soberano, a cleaner at Capilano University. “We work very hard and our work should be respected and valued. Without us, the campus would be dirty and students would not be able to come to classes,” added Soberano.
Best Service Pros responded to the workers’ petition saying “The Labour Board must decide whether the SEIU Application is consistent with [these] rules and regulations … Unfortunately, BEST has no control over the timing of when that decision is made.”
Meanwhile, last Friday, Best’s Legal Counsel filed an application for Reconsideration with the Labour Board in its continued attempt to delay the process further.
In light of SEIU Local 2 organizing efforts targeting Best Service Pros cleaners at post-secondary institutions under CLAC, it is expected that Best will put up many impediments at negotiations to prevent workers from receiving a fair contract.
“We are asking that unions and student groups on campus stand with us during this process,” says Delia Tanza, another member of the Bargaining Committee. “Without your support, we will be forced to accept an agreement like CLAC and our union will not be a strong one.”
SEIU’s Justice for Janitors is a movement of workers that has successfully organized to improve wages, benefits, and job security for over 7,000 janitors across Canada. SEIU’s goal is to organize all janitors in BC, in order to raise industry standards.
There will be a ratification vote held for all members to attend. At this meeting the bargaining team will explain the details of the tentative deal that has been reached with GDI Integrated Facility Services. All members are encouraged to attend, discuss and vote.
Various meetings will be held throughout the day at the times below. This is your collective agreement – come out and vote.
We look forward to seeing you there.
Janitors packed into a downtown Toronto hotel on Saturday to ratify a new collective bargaining agreement. The cleaners are seeing the most significant raises since they started working in the janitorial industry. In addition, workers were able to improve their health and dental benefits plan, improve job security, and for the first time, will be able to bank paid personal days which can now be used for absences due to illness.
“This is good for my family,” said Olga da Cruz, a member of the bargaining committee. “I’ve never been paid when I’ve sick before. Just like all working families in Toronto, we needed some real improvements and we won them.”
The 2,000 plus janitors, members of the Service Employees International Union Local 2, were in a legal strike position but reached a tentative agreement with seven of the largest cleaning companies ten days ago.
By the time the agreement expires in 2019, most workers will see their hourly wages increase by almost 13 per cent.
“Years ago, before we formed a union we had nothing,” said Chris Lockhart, who has worked in the janitorial industry for almost a decade. “But every year things are getting better. I have to buy eyeglasses every year and they’re expensive so this deal really helps.”
The deal was reached with Alpine Building Maintenance, Bee Clean Building Maintenance, C&W Services, Commercial Cleaning Services, Compass Canada, Hallmark Housekeeping Services, and Magic Maintenance. The agreement sets the stage for negotiations for close to an additional 700 union members. Talks with about a dozen other cleaning companies will begin shortly.
The goal is to continue raising standards for all workers in the janitorial industry.
Cleaners in Toronto have made great strides since the launch of the Justice for Janitors campaign in 2007. Less than ten years ago, a large number of cleaners in Toronto were trapped in elaborate subcontracting schemes that denied workers basic protections covered in the Employment Standards Act such as WSIB coverage, Employment Insurance, overtime pay, vacation pay, statutory holiday pay and CPP contributions . It was not uncommon to find cases where cleaners were making less than minimum wage. Medical benefits were only a pipe dream for the vast majority.
Today, through the Justice for Janitors campaign, thousands of Toronto area cleaners and their families are now enjoying medical benefits and important gains in wages.
“There’s still work to do,” said Tom Galivan, SEIU Local 2’s organizing director. “We still need to turn these into living wage jobs that will allow workers to support families with one fulltime job.”