Union wants 'justice for janitors'

Office cleaners fight for pay rights

One of Toronto's four biggest cleaning companies has purposefully misclassified more than one-quarter of its workforce in order to circumvent labour protection laws, claims a North American union.

The Service Employees International Union's (SEIU) Local 2 has filed a complaint against Hallmark Housekeeping Services Inc. with the Ontario Labour Relations Board, alleging rampant employment violations, threats and firings of cleaners and interference with the union process.

In its complaint, the union alleges Hallmark misclassified more than 25 per cent of cleaners as "subcontractors," evading labour protection laws and denying workers their rights.

Hallmark has cleaning contracts at Scotia Plaza, the Rogers Centre, Manulife Financial and other properties owned by Cadillac Fariview.

Several years ago, the SEIU began a move to unionize North American office cleaners in a campaign known as "Justice for Janitors." In Toronto, the union worked to convince the city's four major cleaning companies to agree to a city-wide standard that would stop the decline of cleaners' wages as they bid for competing contracts.

Traditionally, cleaners were organized building by building and by different unions. The SEIU has been pushing for an industry-wide standard, similar to Montreal's city-wide decree that governs all building service contracts equally, which would stop job losses and downward pressure of wages in all Toronto buildings.

In Montreal, office cleaners earn $13.90 to $14.80 an hour, plus benefits and sick leave. In Toronto, most workers earn about $8 an hour and unionized workers earn $9 to $12 an hour, but cleaners classified as "subcontractors" can earn much less than that.

Two of Toronto's big four cleaning companies, Hurley and Unicco, signed city-wide agreements last year, while the Labourers' International Union of North America unionized cleaners at Omni.

The Justice for Janitors campaign has seen considerable success in the United States, in part due to unions lobbying potentially sympathetic building owners to pressure cleaning contractors to let workers to unionize.

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