Union is fighting for a living wage for all workers
Christine Beyleveldt // News Editor
Delia Tanza hasn’t had a single day off in four months. She works as a private caregiver for a few hours every morning before she comes to Capilano University to clean five days a week. On the weekends, Tanza works as a cleaner and housekeeper at the Lynn Valley Care Centre just so she can put food on the table for herself and her teenage son.
“The bus is my bedroom,” she said while rubbing her sore legs, because she gets up at 7:30 a.m. every morning and doesn’t return home until well past midnight. Analou Espina also works two jobs to support herself and her two children, because she only earns $11.75/hour without any benefits after nearly four years of working as a cleaner at CapU.
Since the 1980s, there’s been a push for post-secondary institutions to contract service jobs. Those jobs, for the most part, include cleaners, food workers and security guards, and contracts have marked worse overall working conditions and put many of these service workers in or near poverty.
Capilano Students’ Union (CSU) Vice President External Noah Berson stated in their Community Advisory that “contracting out these services doesn’t need to be a race to the bottom.” However, CapU Senior Communications Advisor Cheryl Rossi responded by saying that the University doesn’t strictly accept the lowest bid, but also look at experience, capability, price and financial stability in the tendering process before selecting a contractor. Rossi also stressed that the University does not employ the individuals who work for these contracted service providers.
“Despite contrary statements from the administration, the number one factor in the tendering process is price, which leads to contracted workers being paid poverty wages. The University has the power and responsibility to do something about this,” said Christine Bro, lead organizer at Service Employees International Union Local 2 (SEIU 2).
Best Service Pros won a five-year cleaning contract for CapU in 2015. They also won cleaning contracts at Langara College and BCIT in 2016, and immediately contacted the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) to negotiate 10-year voluntary recognition agreements with no benefits and minimal wage increases for their workers. CapU cleaners were not forced into a CLAC agreement, but they are still earning minimal pay with no benefits. All of the cleaners earn between $11.50 and $12 per hour, far below the standard living wage, which, in Vancouver, is just over $20 per hour.
The cleaners applied to the Labour Board to join SEIU 2 and its campaign, Justice for Janitors, which Best Service Pros objected to at a hearing on Feb. 17. Their employer appealed to the Labour Board to stop the vote on the grounds that it would proliferate bargaining units. The Labour Board ordered votes that were cast by 27 out of 29 cleaners on Feb. 20 to be sealed.
After months of stalling, the votes were finally unsealed and counted on June 27. The cleaners voted overwhelmingly in favour of joining the union despite protests from their contractor and are currently bargaining with Best Service Pros.
An open letter has been circulating the University since the start of the semester advocating for a living wage for all workers, not just those who are contracted, which has been signed by stakeholders including student clubs, other unions and faculty departments. Students have also signed a petition and agreed to support the cleaners and all university workers in their fight for a living wage.
Tanza and Espina reflected that one man on the cleaning staff who had worked at CapU for a couple of years was injured on the job, and was told by his doctor he would have to take a year off from work to recover. He was red when he was finally well enough to return. “If I don’t go [to work], they will kick me out,” said Espina. None of the cleaners are paid if they can’t work, whether they have to take a sick day or because the University is closed.
At a board of directors meeting on Oct. 6, the CSU voted to adopt a Living Wage Policy for all of its current, future and contracted employees, although they did not sign SEIU 2’s open letter and are not directly involved with the Justice for Janitors campaign. The board reached the consensus that there wasn’t enough time to launch an independent living wage campaign. Instead, the CSU believes that all workers deserve a living wage no matter the job they’re working.
Oct. 17, 2017: This article has been updated to reflect additional comments from Christine Bro, lead organizer at SEIU 2.