In the last week of March thousands of workers in the janitorial industry made a historic breakthrough by winning a pension plan in their recent round of collective bargaining.
For the last decade members of SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Local 2’s Justice for Janitors movement have been fighting against an industry rife with abuse and sub-contracting schemes. Over the past 10 years nearly 4,000 workers have joined the union in Toronto. Thousands more workers have joined in other cities such as Ottawa, Halifax and Vancouver. They have been able to win health, dental, and vision care benefits, above inflation wage increases, and personal emergency days.
This past year the fight was focused on two things:
- Beating back the employers and their clients, including many of the wealthiest property management firms and owners in the world
- Winning retirement security—a pension plan
Also on the agenda was recouping the wages lost when the Ford government cancelled the minimum wage hike to $15/hr from $14/hr.
Toronto cleaners voted in favour of an agreement that won them wage increases above the industrial norm. Cleaners wages go above the $15.00/hr mark and by the end of the agreement get cleaners close to and above $16.45/hr, depending on the job classifications.
Most importantly they broke new ground by winning a pension plan slated to start in the 3rd year of the contract. With only 10% of private sector workers covered by defined benefit pension plans this victory opens the door for other workers to reverse the trend of employers, banks, and governments eroding pensions.
This breakthrough further opens the door for several thousand cleaners in other unions to demand and win pensions in Toronto. It also puts cleaning companies in Ottawa on notice that close to 3,000 unionized cleaners will also be demanding pensions. By 2022 over 10,000 contracted-out cleaners in Ontario could be enrolled in pension plans.
By standing strong and pushing back, Toronto cleaners have shown that it is still possible to beat back the bosses attacks and win retirement security for all workers.