SEIU Local 2 has just won an important arbitration against Building & Maintenance Ind. Company (BMI) in Ottawa. The company won the contract to provide cleanings services at the Canadian Conservation Institute in 2017, replacing the previous unionized contractor that had employed union members under SEIU Local 2’s City-Wide collective agreement. As a result of the change in contractor, the workplace ceased to be unionized.
SEIU Local 2 re-certified the workplace and attempted to negotiate a new collective agreement with BMI. BMI refused to compensate workers anything close to the rates in SEIU Local 2’s City-Wide agreement. The janitors were making at or near to minimum wage and had no benefits, sick days or pension. BMI then used every bureaucratic trick in the book to drag out the ensuing dispute over the course of 2 years. Finally, the Labour Board agreed with SEIU Local 2 and directed that the collective agreement be settled by interest arbitration.
At arbitration, the Union argued that its City-Wide Collective Agreement represented the industry standard in Ottawa, and that BMI’s workers shouldn’t be subject to sub-standard working conditions. BMI argued it could not afford to provide the workers with City-Wide rates as it had bid on (and won) the cleaning contract based on lower rates. In essence, BMI was trying to chip away at Union janitors’ compensation to undercut their competition. It was a way to cheat their way out of providing the good working conditions which janitors had won in the rest of the City to drum up more business.
The Arbitration Board flatly refused to help BMI engage in “a race to the bottom.” On May 10th, Janitors won increases in wages and premiums, benefits, sick days, vacation and pension, bringing them up to standard with the rest of the janitors in the City of Ottawa. What’s more, the arbitrator awarded backpay to the previously excluded janitors to compensate them for the difference they lost working for their previous wage.
This represents a victory for janitors in Ontario and a warning to other janitorial contractors trying to cheat janitors of their hard-won union rights. Union power at work!
See the full decision: