The dirty business of janitorial services

Community News & Features Aug 9, 2019 at 3:47 pm
Photos: Ysh Cabana

Photos: Ysh Cabana

By Ysh Cabana
The Philippine Reporter

Emma Llanes, 54, from Batangas, Philippines, hoped to make enough money cleaning the lobby of a downtown Toronto building to buy prescription medicine for her high blood pressure.

Even with six years of gruelling work experience at The Icon Condominiums in downtown Toronto, Llanes is instead locked out with her co-workers following a breakdown of negotiations with Luciano Janitorial Services. Their last contract, which had been negotiated with the previous cleaning company, expired on March 31.

The five cleaners – three janitors and two superintendents, all of whom came from the Philippines at different times – have been rallying with Service Employees International Union  (SEIU) Local 2 since June.

Speaking to the The Philippine Reporter at 250/270 Wellington Street West where the weekly protest is happening, Llanes says the residents keep telling her the building is now a mess.

“If we leave things as they are, this hardship will just continue,” says Llanes. “We still have to pay for food for our families and a Metropass. How are we supposed to do that?” She adds she is asked to pay additional fees for her benefits while her wages are frozen for this year.

DSC_0112Currently, the workers are paid 14.50/hour or 15.25/hour depending on their job classification. But, for Villamor Castaneto, who hails from Tarlac and has been working at the building for seven years, all the workers want is fairness: wage increase and decent working conditions.

The locked out janitors argue Luciano Janitorial Services owner Marcelino Luciano, based in North York, Ontario, has not only demanded concessions but has also rejected all improvements proposed by the workers and the union.

“He is demanding we give away things we need,” said Castaneto.

The company wants the workers to give up two out of their four yearly sick days and to change their monthly benefit contributions from the 20 per cent employee paid to 70 – 30 per cent split in favour of the employer. Meaning workers will have to pay about $1000 for their benefits compared to the current $240. In terms of wages, the employer has offered a meagre 30-cent increase over three years with wage freeze the first year.

“Everyone who lives in Toronto knows that’s not even going to cover the cost of rising transportation or anything like that,” says Jorge Villa, an organizer with SEIU. “We’ve been rallying for three to four weeks now trying to talk to residents, having this picket lines to show the board that we are organizing. We are not going away as the struggle keeps on for these workers.”

For SEIU, the standard set by agreements among unionized cleaners in Toronto is a pay increase of 40-cent spread over three years, as well as a pension plan starting in the third year.
“And we essentially went to this contractor with the same proposal saying, you know, we expect him to have the same standards as every other employer that has cleaners in Toronto. But this contractor has basically been difficult,” says Villa.

The provision of cleaning supplies is also an issue, as staff are being forced to limit usage of garbage bags and cleaning rags. The union points out the sanitary risks of recycling supplies.

Luciano Janitorial Services did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

Joven Velasco, from Pangasinan, Philippines and one of the locked-out janitors, says that his workload has increased as at times two cleaners are expected to perform the same work that typically requires three.

“All the hours that we’ve been working overtime, we think they should refund,’’ Velasco said.