Less than a year after ratifying a new collective agreement at BC Hydro properties in the Lower Mainland, over 50 contracted cleaners now risk losing everything they gained as well as their jobs. With a union, they have a means to fight back.
“Our contract is going to end soon” said Mary Jane Bayangos, a cleaner at BC Hydro’s tower on Dunsmuir in downtown Vancouver, “another company will be taking over. This contract flip has been very stressful on us because it could mean risking our jobs, wages, benefits and privileges that we used to have in our old contract, which we fought hard for.”
BC Hydro, whose properties are managed by Brookfield Global Integrated Services, a multi-billion dollar real estate entity, announced in the fall of 2018 that they were retendering the cleaning contract at their properties in Surrey, Burnaby and Vancouver. In January 2019, the Crown corporation and its property manager awarded the contract to a giant non-union company, Alpine Building Maintenance.
Contract flipping is a routine practice in the cleaning industry, allowing property managers to erode the working standards of their cleaners through the retendering of contracts to the lowest bidder. Worse still, new contractors are under no obligation to rehire the existing staff, regardless of how long they may have held those jobs. While most provinces have addressed this grotesque practice through their own labour codes, the British Columbia Labour Code is still without successorship rights. Workers in B.C are forced to reapply for their jobs with the successor company under worse contracts and with lesser standards. “… its frustrating that after seven long years of service, I have to apply for the same job again, and might lose everything” Bayongos said.
Although BC Hydro, and its CEO Chris O’Riley, claim to have required the new contractor to rehire all existing staff and match current wage and benefit plans, less than three weeks from the contract change no worker has been offered a position.
Alpine Building Maintenance has met with the staff that are currently employed by GDI and represented by the Service Employees International Union. But in these meetings Alpine has repeatedly told the workers that they are a non-union company and presented mixed messages on what exactly the terms of employment will be.
On Monday February 4th, a delegation of workers attempted to deliver the signed open letter to Brookfield’s corporate office on Howe Street in downtown Vancouver only to be turned away at the door. They then met with Chris O’Riley, hand delivering the letter to him and asking him in person to step in and act to protect the workers’ jobs.
“No one is happy about this transition because it could mean that we are going to start from scratch again and everything we have fought for will be in vain. As for my co-workers, some are close to retirement age, it worries them that they might lose their jobs and it would be hard for them to find a new one” Bayangos commented.
Over 80 percent of the cleaners at BC Hydro are women and nearly 100 percent are newcomers to Canada. These workers are using their collective power to show BC Hydro, BGIS and Alpine that they cannot simply be run over. Workers are upping the planned actions in the coming weeks until their demands are met.