Janitors in British Columbia Raise Industry Standards with New Contract

"We must always stand up for ourselves as a union. This contract is a great step in the right direction for all of us."

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Janitors cleaning Emily Carr University have recently won a contract that sets new and better standards for workers in the janitorial industry in British Columbia. Unionized with SEIU Local 2 in 2019 while working for Bee-Clean, the janitors took advantage of a contract change to drastically improve their wages, benefits, and working conditions.

Bee-Clean, one of Canada’s largest cleaning companies, lost its contract with Emily Carr University in August 2020. Bee-Clean’s substandard working conditions would not be missed amongst the SEIU Local 2 cleaners working at the University. By keeping wages and benefits below industry standards, Bee-Clean workers at Emily Carr were being pulled down in a race to the bottom of the cleaning industry. Josephine Mendoza, cleaner at Emily Carr, puts it bluntly: “Before, we had nothing.”

Josephine Mendoza, a member of the bargaining committee, poses in front of Emily Carr University

So, when the opportunity arrived to win a new contract with the incoming contractor, Integral Building Maintenance, the janitors got ready to put in the work and fight. They entered bargaining with bold proposals, and exited with an excellent contract.

In addition to their determination, the janitors benefited from other advantages. Emily Carr University is unionized from wall to wall, and faculty, students and staff on campus were vocally supportive of the janitors’ union drive with SEIU Local 2 back in 2019. The cleaners knew that the two major unions at Emily Carr, CUPE Local 15 and the faculty association would not cross a potential picket line. Integral knew this too and came to the table ready to provide a fair deal to avoid a disruptive strike that would likely shut down the campus.

As a result, the janitors won:

  • -a significant wage increase;
  • -four bankable personal days;
  • -benefits with employer-paid premiums;
    -paid breaks;
  • -quarantine pay should they need to self-isolate;
  • -many other extras, such as a work clothing allowance and better vacation pay.

Leonida Rabago celebrates in front of the Memorandum of Agreement

Leonida Rabago, a day shift cleaner, reflects on the new collective agreement: “I’ve worked as a cleaner for more than 5 years without access to any health benefits or paid time off. I feel very happy with my wage increases and for my health benefits. Cleaning a university and public space puts us at higher risk and we need these benefits in case we get sick.”

Janitors at Emily Carr Encourage Other SEIU Local 2 Members to Fight for a Better Contract

Josephine Mendoza decided to join the bargaining committee, saying “I wanted to stand up for my co-workers – and stand up for our rights.” Josephine encourages janitors in the rest of British Columbia and Canada to fight for better contracts and become involved in union activism: “Go for it and fight for your rights. It’s scary sometimes but just do it.”

She and other janitors at Emily Carr wholeheartedly agree that we perseverance, other janitors can win similar, if not better. Jaswinder Kaur, cleaner at Emily Carr, says that solidarity is critical for other janitors seeking to improve. Jaswinder says: “We must always stand up for ourselves as a union. This contract is a great step in the right direction for all of us.”

Jaswinder Kaur poses inside Emily Carr University


Slim Gedeon

People say that we are important but do they really treat us that way? We should be getting higher pay

Janitor, Ottawa
Read Slim's Story

Vilma Lopez

We should be given some recognition for taking this risk by at least increasing our wages

Janitor, Burnaby
Read Vilma's Story

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