Friday, October 1, 2010

Janitors fight back at U of A

An interesting story is developing out of the University of Alberta. A group of janitors employed by Bee Clean Building Maintenance (which is under contract with the university) has taken a number of steps to protest what it believes is unfair treatment:

1. The employees, with the assistance of the Service Employees International Union, has filed civil suit against Bee Clean for over $42,000 in unpaid wages.

2. The SEIU has filed an unfair labour practices complaint with the Alberta Labour Relations Board alleging Bee Clean has violated the provisions of the Labour Relations Code precluding employer interference with the formation and administration of a trade union.

Some of these workers are temporary foreign workers. They allege that the employer has threatened to send them home if they persist in forming a union. They also assert a worker was terminated for supporting coworkers who are temporary foreign workers. Bee Clean has not yet responded publicly.

The janitors are backed by a fairly saavy campaign more typical of the Justice of Janitors campaign in the US. The Los Angeles Justice of Janitors campaign was the basis of the 2000 film Bread and Roses.

Temporary foreign workers (TFWs) routinely face violations of basic employment right. In 2009, 74% of employers employing TFWs inspected by the province were found to be in violation of the Employment Standards Code. Half of these violations were for not paying workers properly. In a bizarre bit of spin, Employment and immigration Minister called these stats good news:

"They know what their rights are, they know what their privileges are as Alberta employees and they're making complaints that are valid."

So why then have the janitors chosen civil action over seeking payment for unpaid wages through the Employment Standards Code process? A part of the issue may be the limited reach of employment standards. Section 90 only allows employment standards complaints to go back six months from the date the order for back pay was issued on.

Practically what the means is that an employee files a complaint. It takes awhile for the complaint to be investigated and an order issued. A cagey employer will correct the illegal behavior when the complaint is filed and then stall the investigation. This stalls the issuance of an order (which crystallizes the six-month retrospective period) and thereby reduces the owed backpay by dragging out the proceedings.

The 2005 review of the Employment Standards Code identified this as an issue to be fixed by crystallizing the six-month period on the date of complaint. Despite spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in staff time and on consultants (including yours truly) the government shelved the recommendations from the review and this issue never got addressed.

-- Bob Barnetson


Bob Barnetson said...

In response to the SIEU campaign, has posted the following statement on their website:

In response to the allegations made to the media advisory released by the SEIU on September 29, 2010.

1. No employee, Temporary Foreign Worker or otherwise has been threatened in any way with job security or the threat of deportation

2. Two Temporary Foreign Workers were recently released as a result of a physical altercation on site. This is a clear violation of company policy, site policy and is a safety issue.

3. The employees have not disputed the physical altercation. This event is the only reason that they are no longer employed by Bee-Clean Building Maintenance.

4. No employees have been terminated for standing up for their labour rights.

No Bee-Clean Building Maintenance employee has been terminated or threatened with termination related to pay or any other issue. Management welcomes all employees to talk openly without coercion.

Interesting to note that the issue of backpay is not addressed.

-- Bob

Bob Barnetson said...

The SIEU has posted its filing with the LRB. They make for fairly interesting reading about the tactics employer can use to scuttle an organizing drive:


Bob Barnetson said...

In an interesting turn of events, Bee Clean has apologized to workers it shorted on overtime pay and indicated it was an administrative error:

I find this explanation difficult to believe. Several months of workers complaining and no one thought to review the payroll records of even one to see if it was an administrative error? But now that workers are suing and the company is in the spotlight suddenly it finds administrative error?

Bee Clean has also filed a defamation suit against the union. It has not, however, publicly commented on the UFLP allegations.

Anonymous said...

somos un grupo de personas que trabajamos en bee clean durante los años 2007 - 2009 y dentro del periodo del primer año nos percatamos que no estaban pagando las horas extras y no pudimos hacer nada por miedo a perder nuestros empleos ahora estamos en nuestro pais ( chile) y nos enteramos de la deman da y no sabemos que hacer para que nos devuelvan nuestros dineros porfa si alguien save algo o quien nos pueda ayudar mi correo es gracias.