Should a janitor be expected to purchase their own garbage bags if they need more than are provided by their employer? Is it reasonable to ask cleaning staff to use four rags to clean an entire building including washrooms? These are some of the questions being asked by a union representing janitors in Toronto.
Service Employees International Union Local 2 says that working conditions have been deteriorating for the cleaning staff at The Icon condominiums in downtown Toronto since the property management company hired a new contractor last summer.
The six janitors, all of whom are immigrants and people of colour, have been locked out of their jobs following a breakdown in negotiations with Luciano Janitorial Services.
Their last contract, which had been negotiated with the previous cleaning company, expired on March 31.
The union has been picketing outside the condo this week and held a rally on Friday, June 11.
Jorge Villa, an organizer with SEIU Local 2, says that the contractor has asked for heavy concessions including: reducing two personal days from the current allotment of four; cutting the employer's contribution to the benefits plan (including dental, optical and medical) from 80 per cent to 30 per cent, so that each worker would have to pay an additional $720 per year; and only giving workers a $0.30 hourly increase to $14.80 over three years.
"We successfully negotiated with other contractors in the city," says Villa.
"And we essentially went to this contractor with the same proposal saying, you know, we expect him to have the same standards as every other employer that has cleaners in Toronto. But this contractor has basically been difficult."
New contractor, lower costs
Luciano took up cleaning operations in the twin condos at 250 and 270 Wellington St. last year. SEIU says that they had better relations with the previous contractor.
Villa believes that the pressure to cut costs is likely coming from Del Property Management which opted for a cheaper cleaning firm.
"It's all an opportunity to cut down costs. And obviously, at the expense of the workers," Villa says.
"Downtown Toronto is one of the most expensive places in the city and they want to pay peanuts to the people cleaning it."
Both Del and the The Icon's board of directors declined to comment.
Consequences for workers (and residents)
Joven Velasco, one of the locked-out janitors, says that his workload has increased as at times two cleaners are expected to perform the same work as three workers.
The provision of cleaning supplies is also an issue, as staff are being forced to limit usage of garbage bags and cleaning rags. The union points out the sanitary risks of recycling supplies.
"[Luciano] says, 'If the garbage bags don't last the whole month, you yourself will have to buy them,'" says Joy Tabap, a union representative.
Zaid Noorsumar is rabble's labour beat reporter for 2019, and is a journalist who has previously contributed to CBC, The Canadian Press, the Toronto Star and Rankandfile.ca. To contact Zaid with story leads, email zaid[at]rabble.ca.
Photo: Zaid Noorsumar
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