SEIU Local 2.on

SEIU Local 2.on

October 23, 2007 10:30 ET

SEIU Local 2.on: Janitors Call on Ministry to look into Hallmark's Practices

MPP Cheri DiNovo (Parkdale-High Park) voices concern, calls for investigation

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Oct. 23, 2007) - Janitors announced today that they are coming together to hold their employer, Hallmark Housekeeping Services, accountable for what they say are violations to the Employment Standards Act (ESA). They assert Hallmark is putting workers at risk, dragging down cleaning industry standards, and negatively affecting the public interest.

The janitors, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), contend that Hallmark has structured a significant portion of its operations in such a way as to avoid obligations under a number of pieces of legislation.

"It really hurts workers," said Sinan Altay, a Hallmark janitor and member of SEIU Local 2. "First of all they don't get paid overtime. And what happens to them if they get injured? If they are laid off? Or when they retire? It's not right."

In SEIU Local 2's view, Hallmark has established an employment scheme whereby they have misclassified in excess of 25 percent of their Toronto area workforce as independent contractors, presumably in order to avoid obligations that would have otherwise been imposed upon Hallmark not only in relation to the ESA, but also in respect of the Canada Pension Plan, Employment Insurance, Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, Employer Health Tax, and Income Tax Act.

Unlike the misclassified workers, Altay is a regular payroll employee of Hallmark. He feels he can speak out because he is a union member. Too many of his co-workers are afraid to come forward, especially because of the precariousness of their employment arrangement.

Member of Provincial Parliament Cheri DiNovo Calls for Investigation

MPP Cheri DiNovo (Parkdale-High Park) called upon the Ministry of Labour to launch an investigation into the matter. "These are serious allegations," she said. "There are too many families struggling just to get by in this city. The last thing honest and hard working families in our communities need are unlawful obstacles blocking their opportunity to create a better life for themselves."

"If it is true that Hallmark has established this employment scheme, not only would they be violating workers rights, they'd also be neglecting their obligations to society; if that's the case they will be held accountable."

DiNovo assured the janitors that she would do everything in her power to get to the bottom of any illegal scheme putting hard working people at risk.

Property Managers Urged to Adopt Contracting Code of Conduct

In a related matter, unionized janitors who have been working to build a better future for working families in the cleaning industry in the Toronto area called upon major property managers to adopt a Contractor Code of Conduct.

"We can't continue to live like this," said Aida Lopez, a Toronto janitor and member of SEIU Local 2. "Companies like Hallmark are dragging down employment standards in our industry and that makes it harder for all of us cleaners in the city to win improvements."

Cleaning industry contracts are awarded through a competitive bidding controlled by the owners and/or managers of buildings. Contracts are usually awarded to the contractor who can deliver the required services at the lowest cost-so cleaning companies feel intense pressure to keep costs down.

Most cleaning contractors demand more and more work for less or the same pay, do not provide raises or extended benefits and cut costs wherever they can. When unscrupulous contractors find ways to cut costs through illegal means -there is pressure on the rest of the industry to adopt similar measures in order remain competitive.

The Code of Conduct calls upon property managers to only hire building service contractors that respect the law and workers rights and pay decent wages and provide benefits.

"Working families deserve a chance to create a better future," said Lopez. "Together Toronto can do better."

Background

For more information, please visit www.EyeOnHallmark.org.

SEIU

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is the largest and fastest growing union in North America, with 98,000 workers in Canada and 1.9 million workers across North America.

Contractor Code of Conduct Letter sent to Property Managers

Available upon request.

Complaint sent to Ministry of Labour

Available upon request.

Hallmark Housekeeping Services Inc. Corporate Profile

Available upon request.

Quick Facts about Cleaning in Toronto

The real estate business in Toronto is booming. Vacancy rates for downtown office space have plummeted to 9 percent and investment in real estate continues to increase and provide significant returns for institutional investors. (1)

As the real estate industry grows so does the related building services industry. However, because almost all services to commercial real estate in Toronto are provided through a contract model which drives down costs and keeps workers in poverty-the workers in the building services industry have not seen major benefits from all this growth.

- How many workers work in Toronto's cleaning industry?

There are 995 cleaning companies in the Greater Toronto Area employing 22,000 building service workers. Twenty-nine companies account for 14,000 employees - more than half of the building service workforce in the GTA.

- Who works in Toronto's cleaning industry?

Workers in the service sector are mainly women, recent immigrants and visible minorities, many of whom are trying to support families on poverty wages. Women are usually classified as light duty cleaners and are paid less than men who are often classified as heavy duty cleaners.

- What are employment arrangements like in the industry?

Three of every four workers employed by building service contractors are paid on an hourly basis. (2) Most cleaners earn minimum wage or close to it. Workers rarely get extended health benefits, accidental or life insurance or any other non-mandatory protection.

According to recent reports, in order to cut costs employers are trying to get around mandatory protections that workers are entitled to through:

- Subcontracting: According to the Toronto Star, "some cleaning contractors deny workers minimum wages and other basic employment rights by classifying the workers as independent contractors. "At the end of the working day, the wages of many so-called self-employed or contract workers can amount to as little as $4 an hour, half the legal minimum in Ontario."(3)

- Denial of Overtime Pay: Employers often split hours, require workers to clock out despite the fact that they are still working and employ other methods to deny workers overtime pay.

- How can conditions for cleaners be changed - what are the dynamics of the cleaning industry?

Cleaning industry contracts are awarded through a competitive bidding controlled by the owners and/or managers of buildings. Contracts are usually awarded to the contractor who can deliver the required services at the lowest cost-so cleaning companies feel intense pressure to keep costs down.

Most cleaning contractors demand more and more work for less or the same pay, do not provide raises or extended benefits and cut costs wherever they can. When unscrupulous contractors find ways to cut costs through illegal means -there is pressure on the rest of the industry to adopt similar measures in order remain competitive.

There are more than 175.2 million square feet of commercial office space and more than 100 million square feet of mall based retail space in Toronto. More than twenty percent of the commercial office space in Toronto is owned and/or managed by real estate management companies that are wholly owned by trusteed pension funds. (4) Working people's money is invested in these buildings.

Improving conditions for workers in Toronto's fast growing cleaning sector, requires that industry, politicians, workers, labour unions and the community come together to build a comprehensive strategy that changes the 'race to the bottom' for Toronto's cleaners.

(1) Colliers International, Office Market Analysis First Quarter 2007. As comparison in the first quarter of 2007, in Phoenix, AZ the office vacancy rate was 13.5%, in Washington DC it was 7.2%,

(2) Statistics Canada: Employment, Earnings and Hours Data

(3) Daly, Rita "Contract Job Workers Left Without Hope" Toronto Star March 10, 2007

(4) Altus Company, Real Institute Canada

Contact Information