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Langara’s Cleaning Staff Fight for a Better Union Contract

Staff say they were pushed into an unfair 10-year contract

James Gonzalo, a night cleaner at Langara, goes about his route in A Building cleaning classrooms and emptying trash barrels. Photo by Cameron Thomson
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Reported by Cameron Thomson

Langara’s cleaning staff are fighting to switch unions, saying they were pushed into a 10-year contract with an unrecognized union that offers minimal wage increases and only three sick days.

Staff taken advantage of

An international union defending the college’s cleaning crew is coming to their defense, saying the staff were taken advantage of.

Christine Bro, the lead organizer for Service Employees International Union (SEIU) which is supporting the switch, said many of Langara’s cleaning staff are immigrants and speak English as a second language – making it difficult for them to understand contract terms.

Unknown Langara cleaning staff wearing their work shirt with the BEST Service Pros. logo. Photo by Cameron Thomson.

The cleaning staff’s employer, BEST Service Pros, entered into a tentative agreement with the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC), an unrecognized union by the B.C. Federation of Labour. On June 21, 2016, only three days into being hired, workers were then rushed into ratifying that agreement, according to Bro.

“These contracts have very legal lingo in them. Workers were also not given copies of the agreement before they were asked to vote on it,” Bro said. “While CLAC says they gave them a copy on the day of the ratification, all the workers we spoke to say they didn’t receive a copy of the agreement and only saw it months after in the breakroom.”

Langara night cleaner James Gonzalo, from the Philippines, said when he started to support a switch in unions, his workload increased.

The SEIU is in front of the labour board in an effort to attempt to take over from CLAC as the cleaning staff’s union.

James Gonzalo, doing his rounds as a night cleaner in Langara’s Building A. Photo by Cameron Thomson.
Langara’s role

Public affairs manager Travis Smith said Langara College does not play a role in this dispute.

“We contract out janitorial services, and as such their labour representation choices do not directly involve the college,” Smith said in an email to The Voice.

But Bro said the college should also be held responsible for the low wages of cleaning staff.

She said in order to give the college the best deal, BEST Service Pros entered into an agreement with the unrecognized union “to lock workers into a 10 year poverty deal.”

“The college is actually directly implicated in this because at the end of the day colleges are the contracting authority that choose which cleaning companies they want to award the contract to,” Bro said.

CLAC and BEST Service Pros did not respond to The Voice for comment.

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