Seeking justice for Ottawa's janitors

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On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, organizers Christine Bro and Doug Nesbitt talk about the "Justice for Janitors" campaign in Ottawa.

Far too often, the most basic, central kinds of work that enable us to live our lives and to do the many other things that we do are among the least recognized, the least respected, and the least rewarded. Perhaps the biggest example of this is work that happens in our homes, which is mostly unpaid and is rarely seen as actual work -- and also happens to fall disproportionately on women. But the same tendency appears in more public, waged work as well. In many cities, janitorial workers in large buildings -- workers whose labour is foundational for so much else that happens in these cities -- make minimum wage or only a tiny bit more, and have to navigate truly lousy conditions. This work tends to be disproportionately borne by immigrants and people of colour.

Since the 1980s, an innovative, sector-wide approach to organizing has been used in city after city across North America to allow janitors to win small but very real and meaningful gains. Ottawa is one of the more recent centres to see this sort of "Justice for Janitors" campaign. Though it's only a few years old, the majority of janitorial workers in the city are now union members and they have a city-wide collective agreement. Yet the resistance from some employers remains fierce, and much work remains to be done to win the kinds of concrete gains that janitors in other cities have been able to win. Bro and Nesbitt are organizers with the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, and they talk with me about the Justice for Janitors campaign in Ottawa, the current focal points of struggle, and the crucial lessons they've learned doing this work.

To learn more about the Justice for Janitors campaign as it is happening in Ottawa and other Canadian cities, click here.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show in general, visit the website here. You can learn about suggesting topics for future shows here.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Sudbury, Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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