VANCOUVER – Janitors at Lonsdale Quay Market in North Vancouver are celebrating after completing a successful union organizing drive and certification vote, all amidst the outbreak of COVID-19.
“I had faith that we would win and I’m so happy with the result,” exclaims Saturnina Cuntapay. “Essential workers can get thanked, but that won’t pay the bills. We need respect and job security too.” Saturnina has worked at Lonsdale Quay Market for four years and led her co-workers in winning their union with SEIU Local 2 this month.
The group organized while under increased workload pressures and major uncertainty about job security and potential layoffs.
This may mark the first time SEIU Local 2 had a vote under social distancing restrictions under Covid-19, but it definitely won’t be the last.
“We had to meet up and discuss our plan to form a union, while also keeping a social distance. This was challenging but definitely worth it,” explained Saturnina. “Many of my coworkers were scared at first, but I told them this is how we can demand respect; we need to push. We need paid sick days and benefits, it’s as simple as that.”
As in other provinces, the BC Labour Relations Board has amended the certification process during the crisis; normally an in-person vote is carried out at the workplace, but with COVID-19 the janitors at Lonsdale were mailed ballots to their home address.
A second site under the same Quay Property Management also voted with the BC Board to unionize, however the ballots have not yet been counted due to a pending challenge at the Board by the cleaning contractor, Dexterra.
“We are just trying to get some basic respect. Janitors are always treated like we’re the lowest on the totem pole, like we don’t mean anything,” said Gordon Maivs, one of the graveyard workers at Lonsdale Quay.
Gordon has worked graveyard shifts in the cleaning industry for the last 20 years until deciding now it was time to go union.