A group of University of Alberta janitors spelled out their complaints against Bee-Clean Building Maintenance in front of a crowd of about 80 concerned students, professors, and labour group members on Tuesday.
Bee-Clean is the contractor responsible for janitorial services at the U of A, but many of the complaints brought forward by the janitors have been disputed by the company.
Justice for Janitors, a movement within the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), is seeking to represent the janitors at the U of A who work under Bee-Clean. One former Bee-Clean employee who spoke at the meeting, Gilbert Coy, was working at the U of A as a janitor to send money back to his family in the Philippines. Coy claims that Bee-Clean fired him for supporting the unionization of U of A janitors, along with another former Bee-Clean employee, Tarik Accord.
"The first time they saw my picture [in a union brochure], my supervisor called me and said 'is this your picture.' I said yes, and he said 'I'll give you time to think a bit, and if I were you, I'd quit the union,' " Coy said. "They gave me a chance to quit, but I didn't quit."
"The pressure is really difficult. That's why I'm here, I need to provide the needs for my family. I have three kids."
Outside the meeting, two Bee-Clean representatives passed out letters explaining the company's concerns with what was termed "misinformation [that] has been circulated about the employment of Bee-Clean service workers at the University of Alberta."
One of the complaints that had previously been raised was that Bee-Clean had neglected to pay their employees for overtime work. According to the letter, this was not intentional.
"Due to an administrative error, some employees were not paid properly for overtime work, some were underpaid, and some were overpaid," the letter read, which was signed by Bee-Clean President Brian Gingras.
The representatives at the meeting wouldn't comment further on the matter and asked that all matters be referred to higher management. When contacted, Robert Scott, the Regional Director of Bee-Clean, said that the allegations against Bee-Clean were "categorically untrue" and that the company was suing the union for defamation.
"We absolutely did not fire any of our employees for joining a union, [or] for making contact with a union," Scott said. "It's really important to note, I think, that there are two independent reasons that those employees are no longer with us. First, one employee unfortunately was involved in a physical altercation on campus."
"The second employee had only been working with us for two days and didn't show up for work one day [...] She asked for a different workload at the time and we couldn't offer her one. Unfortunately, we had nothing else to give her, and that's why she no longer works for us."
When previously contacted by The Gateway, the U of A said that they wouldn't get involved in an ongoing labour dispute.
Some university staff who attended the event voiced their displeasure with the administration's current stance.
Marco Katz, a doctoral student and an English and Film Studies instructor, called the university's position "extraordinary."
"We scream for justice everywhere in the world, but we're not going to talk about justice for the people who are in our offices and in our hallways?"
Terry Inigo-Jones, from Alberta Federation of Labour, echoed Katz's sentiment. He attended the meeting and was impressed by what the workers were doing given the situation, and had particular praise for the Temporary Foreign Workers.
"It's remarkable that people who are only here for a short period of time will make this commitment, take this risk, and fight for the rights of people who will come after them for very little benefit for themselves. They're not going to be here that long, so that's just a remarkable stand."
Gateway Online, Thurs Oct 21 2010
Byline: Simon Yackulic