Cleaners employed at Capilano University won their right to join SEIU Local 2 and its Justice for Janitors campaign earlier this June.
SEIU stands for the Service Employees International Union, the largest and fastest growing union in North America, with 100,000 workers in Canada and two million workers across Canada, the United States and Puerto Rico.
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.
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 postsecondary 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, Best’s Legal Counsel filed an application of 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 postsecondary 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.”
For more information, please visit www.justiceforjanitors.ca