Mistreated Cleaners, with Union, Win Concessions from Bosses
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Mistreated Cleaners, with Union, Win Concessions from Bosses

Workers were ousted from their jobs months ago.

Mila Viernes is like many of her compatriots in the oft-ignored world of maintenance staff: she’s a hard worker who balances multiple jobs to keep her family afloat. She has also dealt with years of mistreatment at the hands of her employers, who offer wages either just barely legal or not even that; who capriciously cut those wages paid under the table, leaving Viernes little legal recourse; and who skirt responsibility for their employees by enmeshing them in a web of contractors and subcontractors.

While she had been cleaning Dream-managed buildings for nine years, Viernes was technically employed by a string of other companies. Most recently, those companies were (in order): Impact, which then subcontracted the work to MCC, and then Amphora, which won the contract instead of Impact.

A group of cleaners has been fighting for fair treatment from a local property management company, Dream Office REIT, after being summarily dismissed when a Dream cleaning contract changed hands. Now, months of wrangling later—and with the help of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which cleaners were intent on joining—the workers have won.

Diego Mendez, national communications coordinator for SEIU Local 2, wrote in an email that three of the workers involved have been offered jobs with the new company, Amphora, while six others have accepted termination pay as they’ve found other work.

Amphora’s decision to rehire some cleaners and pay the others comes after a concerted effort on the part of SEIU and janitors to raise awareness and support for the cleaners. Under the banner of Justice for Janitors, an ongoing movement to organize cleaning staff across the country, SEIU called for Dream to take a more active role in managing its properties and ensuring that all of the workers in those buildings were treated fairly.

The development is a positive one for a group of workers who have historically had difficulty achieving redress from employers. Still, there’s an outstanding complaint under the Employment Standards Act against MCC for unpaid wages: Viernes said the workers in her building, 330 Bay Street, were being paid $840 per month for four and a half hours of work five days a week, while workers at 357 Bay Street were paid $675 per month for the same time commitment. And they’ve had to fight long and hard for fair treatment they should have received immediately.

“Amphora, they never—they just let us leave it like that,” Viernes said of the switch from MCC to the new company. Typically, she said, cleaners continued their work under the new company. But Amphora brought in its own people and gave the cleaners no warning that they were out of work.

“They never say nothing. So we don’t know [if we still had a job when Amphora’s contract started]. So we go there, the first week of October, we went there to the building. We asked…for security, for the keys so we can go in and start, and they said, ‘No, you are not going to work anymore. You are not working. There are people there already.'”

Viernes and another worker, who requested his name be withheld, both wondered if Amphora’s decision was based on the workers’ efforts to unionize.

“We tried to unionize so this new agency, Amphora, so that they’re not going to do what Impact did to us,” Viernes said. “That’s why we tried to get the union, so that we can get minimum wage.”

Amphora and Dream did not respond to requests for comment.

In the aftermath, one worker says he’s hopeful about Amphora’s decision—and that the fight for fair pay and treatment is paramount.

“We just want back our jobs, really. That’s the most important thing at this moment,” he says. “If you have kids, you’re not thinking about yourself. First and foremost, it’s about the future of your family, your kids mostly. That’s the thing for me: if you’re a family man, you think first of your family. Your children. Your kids.”

UPDATE: 1:40 PM Since publication, Amphora president Savvas Krotiris says the company always intended to hire every worker who was with Impact. This took so long, he says, because the company needed proof the subcontractors were, in fact, working for Impact. Amphora plans to pay all the cleaners “the standard minimum wage.” Dream has still not responded to comments for request.