By Dunja Apostolov-Dimitrijević
“No one in their right mind would ever accept this deal,” says Jorge Villa, an organizer with Service Employers International Union (SEIU) Local 2, of the proposal tabled by Luciano Janitorial Services.
A crowd of janitors and their community allies gathered outside 250/270 Wellington Street – two soaring condominiums – in downtown Toronto’s lucrative Entertainment District. They are rallying in support of 5 cleaners who have been locked out by their employer for over a week.
Taking more and offering less
The SEIU has been negotiating towards what it considers the standard among unionized cleaners in Toronto. The majority of the 4,000 SEIU Local 2 members in Toronto have successfully negotiated a 40-cent wage increase in per year over 3 years, as well as a pension plan starting in the third year. However, Luciano Janitorial Services has demanded nothing but concessions.
These include taking away 2 out of the 4 sick days that workers are currently entitled to and a reversal to the benefits contribution. This would see the current arrangement of workers putting in 20% and the employer 80% replaced by a 70% – 30% split in favour of the employer. In terms of wages, the employer has offered a meagre 30-cent increase over three years. Meaning workers would receive a wage freeze in the first year, and two 15-cent increases over the next two years.
“His offer is ridiculous,” says Villa. “Because, on the one hand, workers are being asked to pay $700 a year in benefits, while on the other, they are being offered a $600 wage increase over three years. So, it’s not an offer that can be taken seriously. These workers said no to it, and because of that, they have been locked out.”
Deteriorating working conditions
“He is treating us as though we are not even human beings,” says Joven Velasco, one of the locked out janitors.
The cleaners, all Filipino immigrants, report increased pressure to do more with less since Luciano Janitorial Services took over the contract from their previous employer a little over a year ago. They also describe a number of punitive measures, such as the employer deliberately cutting hours to avoid paying benefits and failing to pay overtime, forcing workers to fill out grievances.
“This is going to mean real hardship,” says Emma Llanes, a locked out janitor with Luciano Janitorial Services. “There is going to be nothing left. We still have to pay for food for our families and a metropass. How are we supposed to do that?”
Pressuring condo board to intervene
Despite the condominiums’ residents being supportive of the workers, the Board of Directors and the property manager have effectively sided with the employer by not demanding that he return to the bargaining table to negotiate. That is why SEIU, its members and allies have been holding regular info-pickets in an effort to translate that support into pressure on the Board and the property manager to intervene.
“We will be out there until the lockout ends,” says Villa. “Because we don’t think that entertaining these kinds of concessions is going to do any worker any good.”
A major rally is being planned in support of the workers on Wednesday, July 24 at 8:00 am at 250/270 Wellington in Toronto.