The janitors, unionized with SEIU Local 2, came to a tentative agreement on Friday, October 30th, just two days before they were set to picket various locations across the Lower Mainland. The new collective agreement represents a substantial improvement to working conditions on various fronts. Namely, it includes a considerable wage boost, paid sick days, and employer-paid health and dental benefits.
Teresita Garvez, Bee-Clean janitor who works cleaning the Guinness Tower in Vancouver, reflects on the new collective agreement: “I’m happy for everything. We were ready to go all the way and strike, but I’m relieved we got this deal beforehand.” Garvez considers the health benefits one of the janitors’ most important successes:
The benefits are a big victory for us. I’m getting older, and I need those benefits. Paying out-of-pocket for dental and physiotherapy is difficult. And especially for my co-workers with children, these benefits mean a lot.”
The health benefits are extensive, covering prescription drugs, health equipment, and paramedical services such as vision care and massage therapy. Dependents and part-time janitors will be eligible to enrol. Janitors have also won additional paid time off and improved vacation pay.
Rosario Agustin, janitor cleaning the historical Marine Building in downtown Vancouver, speaks to the impact of union activism in securing the collective agreement:
It’s been quite a while and it was a long fight. The strike pushed them [Bee-Clean Building Maintenance] to grant us what we demanded from our final offer. And it’s about time!”
Most janitors in British Columbia are non-unionized and work for minimum wage, with no access to paid sick days and health benefits. Janitors seeking to improve these working conditions are increasingly turning to unionization. SEIU Local 2 is experiencing a surge of new members joining from the janitorial industry and will continue investing resources into organizing these essential workers.
SEIU Local 2 represents janitors across Canada, including in Nova Scotia, Ontario, New Brunswick, and British Columbia.