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Justice for Janitors on our campuses

By: 
Francesca Tanco-Smith, Erfan Rezaie and Bradley Hughes

April 4, 2018

Today at Langara College, British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT), Vancouver Community College, University of British Columbia – Okanagan (UBC-O) , and Capilano University, workers and students delivered petitions with over 700 signatures demanding justice on our campuses.

Today’s action comes after an organizing drive with the Service Employees International Union’s Justice for Janitors campaign revealed the dirty tricks the cleaning contractor (Best Service Pros) was resorting to to intimidate workers and prevent them from organizing to improve their conditions. Best collaborated with a rat union, CLAC, to impose a ten-year collective agreement with low wages and with nearly no benefits on their staff. They fired three union activists and are working with CLAC at the labour board to prevent the ballots cast for or against joining the SEIU from being counted. The SEIU responded to the BC Labour board’s refusal to count the ballots by organizing a petition among the janitors. More than half the janitors signed the petition to ask the Labour Board to count the ballots. This is more workers than signed union cards during the initial union drive.

At a conference involving workers and students from the five campuses came up with policy recommendations to present to our administrators and a plan for today’s day of action. Colleges and universities have a responsibility to implement an ethical contracting policy that would require all contractors on campus to pay a living wage, that would require them to respect workers’ rights to join the trade union of their choice, and that would not renew the contracts of companies that break labour laws.

At Langara a dozen members of the community tried to take the petitions to the college president’s office, but were barred by locked doors that are usually left open. Instead, Viktor Sokha, Vice President, Administration and Finance, came out to meet them. He listened to their request for changes to the contracting policy and a meeting with the campus president. Paramita Banerjee pushed the VP for change, “I teach a social justice class, if cleaning staff at Langara College make only $12 an hour, that makes me feel like a liar.” She continued,” 30 families who are mostly recent immigrants looking for better lives for their families, cannot survive on these wages.”

At BCIT, the delegation to the college president included Paul Reniers, the Executive Director of the BCIT Faculty & Staff Association, “If the BCIT administration allows the lowest paid workers on campus to be stuck in a 10 year-long contract that was negotiated without the employees’ consent, then we know that free and fair collective bargaining is not valued by this Employer.”

Michael Gauld, the Arts Faculty Representative of the UBCO Student Union explained that “If the institution wants to put itself forward as a leader, it has to face the truth that workers on our campus are not treated fairly and deserve better. That is why we are calling on UBCO to review their contracting practices and to critically view their role in these issues.”

The workers and students were energized in demanding justice for janitors, and plan to meet to pressure the administration to respond to their demands. Because of the terrible behaviour of Best Service Pros, they have mobilized to ensure that companies that behave like this are never invited into our campus communities again.

 

 

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