Nova Scotia

Racism at the root of layoffs, claims union representing black janitors

Seven black janitors being laid off from their cleaning jobs at a Halifax office building are accusing the property manager and an incoming contractor of racial discrimination.

'I've still got to pay rent. I've still got to feed myself,' says janitor

Building cleaners and their supporters protest outside the Founders Square building in Halifax. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Seven black janitors being laid off from their cleaning jobs at a Halifax office building are accusing the property manager and an incoming contractor of racial discrimination.

The unionized workers, who clean Founders Square, said Friday they are filing a complaint with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.

But the property manager of the historic Hollis Street building said the former cleaning company was terminated because of poor service, and it's up to the new contractor to decide who it hires.

In a statement, the Armour Group said its decision to part ways with GDI Integrated Facility Services was "performance-based only."

"Our dissatisfaction with the cleaning services being performed was communicated in countless emails, phone calls and several in-person meetings with senior management at GDI over a period of 12 months," the company said.

The janitors and their supporters say the layoffs are a form of racial discrimination. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

The Armour Group said it has a contractual obligation to maintain standards of cleanliness in the building, and that it received over 200 complaints in 2017 about cleaning issues.

The property manager recently awarded its cleaning contract to Deep Down Cleaning Services, prompting GDI to issue layoff notices to all its cleaners at Founders Square.

Darius Mirshahi, an organizer with the Service Employees International Union Local 2, said the new cleaning contractor only rehired a white non-supervisory janitor.

Armour Group says its decision to part ways with GDI Integrated Facility Services was 'performance-based only' and says it was dissatisfied with the cleaning services for the last 12 months. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

The black janitors are all set to lose their jobs at the end of the month, he said.

"It's very typical in this industry when a new contractor comes in that they keep the workers who are already working there, who know the building and have experience cleaning it," Mirshahi said. "The basis of our complaint is racial discrimination."

But the Armour Group said it's up to the new contractor, Deep Down Cleaning, to decide who it hires.

"Our sole concern in our vendor service contracts is the quality of work performed," the company said.

'This is what racism looks like'

The janitors and their supporters gathered outside the Hollis Street building in protest Friday, chanting "justice for janitors" and waving placards that said "black workers matter."

"This is what racism looks like," local activist El Jones told the small crowd. "It's looks like black workers being kicked out of their minimum-wage jobs where they are barely supporting themselves in the first place."

Taylor MacLean, one of the janitors who received a pink slip, said it's been a stressful experience.

"I've still got to pay rent. I've still got to feed myself," he told reporters. "It's very up in the air how long I won't have a job for."

NDP leader pushes for legislation

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said his party "unconditionally supports" the laid-off workers and called on the province to adopt a law that establishes "successor rights."

Under the proposed law — which he said is in place in Ontario — if a unionized company loses a contract, the new company takes over the workers and abides by the union's hiring and employment terms, Burrill said.

Meanwhile, Mirshahi said a picket will be set up outside the building starting next week if the new cleaning contractor does not offer to hire the janitors.

An organizer with the Service Employees International Union Local 2 says the new cleaning contractor only rehired a white non-supervisory janitor. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Deep Down Cleaning did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.

Mirshahi said the cleaning company didn't provide any reason for its decision not to hire the black workers. He couldn't immediately say whether the worker offered a position with the new cleaning company had more seniority.

The group Working While Black in Nova Scotia issued a statement condemning the company for not rehiring any of the black janitors.

"Racism, whether at work or elsewhere, is too often brushed off as something that is no longer a problem," the statement said.

"The reality is that racism is embedded into our economic system. Low-wage workers are disproportionately people of colour, who face multiple barriers to meaningful, stable employment."

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