Dozens of janitors and their allies held a rally on Tuesday October 25 at the Fairmont Château Laurier in downtown Ottawa. Numerous grievances have been filed against the hotel’s cleaning contractor, ServeGreen Cleaning Services, alleging they have failed to respect workers’ rights and their Collective Bargaining Agreement.
“They have been pressuring us to stay later almost every night,” said Victor Vanembden, one of the cleaners whose shift ends at 5:30 AM and has a second job. “The owner has even threatened to fire us if we don’t stay.”
“ServeGreen needs to respect us as workers and the improvements we’ve made through our Union,” said Vanembden. “Will the hotel take any responsibility?”
Amongst the dozens of supporters were members of PSAC and Alex Silas, the Regional Executive Vice-President of NCR; Larry Rousseau, Canadian Labour Congress Executive Vice-President; members of the Canadian Brewery Council; Ottawa and Gatineau ACORN and members of the International Socialists Ottawa.
A host of problems began on the very first day ServeGreen took over the Château Laurier contract on September 1st, 2022, where contracted janitors at the hotel have been otherwise unionized with SEIU for several years without any major incident.
The allegations in SEIU’s grievances include pressuring cleaners to stay past their scheduled shift at the last minute, threatening termination if they don’t, and a failure to provide paystubs, which further impedes the ability to confirm that all work hours are being paid. Moreover, potentially unscheduled and unpaid work hours prevent workers from meeting their care giving and family responsibilities, and other vital obligations such as getting to their second job.
SEIU’s Collective Agreement at the site also entitles workers to several uniform shirts, yet workers say they have been told to pay out of pocket for additional shirts and are not being provided with an adequate number of clean uniforms. Other outstanding concerns involve a grievance that alleges the unjust termination of a member, and ServeGreen failing to financially contribute to benefit and retirement plans. A number of workers also allege they have not been paid their sick days, and at least one is not being paid their full wage rate.
“Imagine trying to balance life, family and everything in between and here you have ServeGreen demanding workers stay beyond their scheduled shift without notice,” said Daniel Charlebois, SEIU’s Justice for Janitors Ottawa president. “It seems ServeGreen is trying to lower the standards that we’ve fought hard to raise. We won’t let them.”
SEIU finds it reprehensible that cleaners are subjected to poor and unacceptable conditions at a world-famous luxury hotel. Similar issues are also being reported by workers at the nearby Westin Hotel, who are also employed by ServeGreen. In effect, it would seem ServeGreen treats the terms of the collective agreement as optional. These hotels should have a responsible contractor policy and ensure the cleaning companies they hire are respecting workers’ rights.
SEIU previously reached out to Château Laurier management asking them to intervene and ensure workers’ rights are being respected on their property. The hotel’s response has been unsatisfactory.