By Gerard Di Trolio
Cleaners in several office buildings in downtown Toronto and their allies held a protest last Friday to raise awareness of a number of major issues they have with their employers as part of the ongoing Justice for Janitors campaign organized by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 2.
Contractors providing cleaning services used by the buildings’ owner Dream Office REIT have come under fire from the cleaners from issues ranging from wages to job security. Several legal complaints have been filed.
The contractor Amphora Maintenance is accused of letting go 12 cleaners with a combined service of over 60 years, which SEIU is claiming violates Ontario’s labour laws because the workers were trying to form a union. SEIU says, “It is common industry practice to retain existing cleaning staff when a cleaning company takes over a contract at a property.” In addition to the the dismissals, Amphora is also accused of failing to give the cleaners over $25,000 in severance and termination pay.
Another contractor, Impact Cleaning Services, and its subcontractor MCC Inc. have also received nine legal complaints for failing to pay workers the provincial minimum wage and failing to pay vacation pay. The money sought by the nine complaints totals over $18,000.
“I worked here [330 Bay St.] from September 2006 to this year. There were so many problems in the building. Sometimes we would complain about our pay, but the supervisor would tell us if we didn’t like it to get out,” says cleaner and protestor Mila Viernes. “They also reduced our pay and increased the jobs we had to do, like cleaning the washroom.”
“I’ve been working for two years at impact. They’ve given us below minimum wage,” says cleaner and protestor Ruel Dimaphilis. “We’re just fighting for what is right for us and we’ve been working really hard at it. We want a union so we don’t have to live like this.”
SEIU is calling on Dream Office REIT to retain the 12 cleaners, recognize their union, and extend the company’s code of conduct so that it applies to its contractors so the rights of all members of the cleaning staff are recognized.
You can find information about SEIU Local 2’s ongoing Justice for Janitors campaign here.