OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - March 31, 2014) - About 30 cleaners and their supporters rallied for justice outside 700 Montreal Road in Ottawa on Saturday, two days after filing a legal complaint against Evripos Janitorial Limited at the Ontario Labour Relations Board.
For years workers have been struggling to lift their families out of poverty and make improvements for cleaners all over Ottawa through the Justice for Janitors campaign. With their union, SEIU Local 2, they are finally poised to negotiate benefits for the first time early next year
"It's important for us to have a voice at work and have our rights respected," said Farida Maow, one of the two cleaners speaking at the rally.
Maow is a single mother of three. She worries, "can I pay the rent? The electrical bill? Do I have enough for groceries to feed my children?" She also has diabetes which requires medication and her children need eyeglasses.
Marie France Leon also works at the building. She has been trying to save enough money to sponsor her husband who remains in Haiti. "Every worker needs a living wage and benefits so that we can raise our families with dignity and peace of mind," she said.
"I like my job but in order to make ends meet I need to work two jobs," said Leon. "I get up at 5:45 AM and start my first job at 7:00 AM. My 2nd job is from 5:30 PM to 11:30 at night," she continued. "This my week from Monday to Friday."
It's not uncommon for workers who are paid poverty wages to struggle with health issues. Leon is no exception. She has high blood pressure and needs medication; without any benefits it gets very expensive.
The cleaners were joined by supporters from Ottawa ACORN and Solidarity Against Austerity.
"These courageous workers are not alone in their fight for recognition," said Kevin Skerrett of SAA. "Hundreds of our members have begun to hear about the efforts of this employer to eliminate their union. We stand with these workers, and we call on EVRIPOS to negotiate a fair contract with them."
Ottawa ACORN have also been active in the fight for living wages and good jobs in the city for years.
Justice for Janitors has not gone unnoticed by the Ottawa city council.
"We want healthy communities in Ottawa, but how is that possible when workers have to work two jobs just to provide their families the basic necessities?" asks city councillor Diane Holmes.
"Justice for Janitors is an important campaign that has been improving the lives of working families in our community," she said. "I urge Evripos to retain the cleaners at 700 Montreal Road and recognize their right to collectively bargain."
Evripos was recently awarded the cleaning contract at 700 Montreal Road, but has refused to recognize the workers' union. They take over the cleaning from Allen Maintenance tomorrow.
The 17 cleaners are unionized members of the SEIU Local 2 and currently have a Collective Bargaining Agreement that doesn't expire until next summer.
According to the complaint filed on March 27, SEIU says:
…it is clear from the circumstances that the Responding Party has proposed to offer employment at other locations, for the (soon to be former) employees of Allen Maintenance in a clear attempt to prevent those employees from again exercising rights under the Act, namely the right to organize and freely select a bargaining agent.
[their] actions also represent an attempt to intimidate and coerce employees to refrain from exercising rights under the Act.
A full copy of the legal complaint is available at www.JusticeforJanitors.ca
The Service Employees International Union is the largest and fastest growing union in North America, with 100,000 workers in Canada and two million workers across Canada, the United States and Puerto Rico.