Uptown janitors vote to strike, citing poor wages, increased risk

Unionized janitors at Uptown shopping centre have voted to strike, saying they are understaffed, underpaid and at risk working during the pandemic.

The workers voted to unionize with SEIU Local 2 last June and have been negotiating their first collective agreement. They are calling for a living wage and paid sick days, but say they’ve been ignored by their employer, Everclean Facility Services.

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No strike date has been set.

The workers are paid $15.25 an hour, just above B.C.’s minimum wage. They say it’s not enough in light of Victoria’s high living costs. The so-called living wage, according to the Living Wage for Families Campaign in B.C., is $19.39 an hour, the amount a family needs to make to cover basic expenses. The calculation is based on a two-parent family with two children — the most common family unit in B.C. — with each parent working full-time, says the Living Wage for Families Campaign.

Uptown includes retail, office and recreational facilities, as well as large common areas.

Union member and Uptown janitor Lance Szpradowski said the workload has increased over the pandemic. “If I had been cleaning the lobby prior to the pandemic, you’d clean the windows, vacuum carpet, mop the floor. But now we have to sanitize all of the touch surfaces, including door handles, elevators, crash bars, door frames. It’s what is needed to keep mall visitors safe.”

The janitors say they are at increased risk during the pandemic. Hannah ­Clearwater, a night-shift worker, said they have been working in high-traffic public spaces but “aren’t being treated like we’re ­essential by Everclean at all.”

Szpradowski said workers worry about striking during the pandemic, but said the employer has left them no options. “We were already short-staffed prior to the pandemic. It’s gotten even worse after the pandemic started. There is so much work to do. But we haven’t seen any increase in hours or pay. Something has got to give.”

A request for comment from Everclean Facility Services was not immediately returned.

Meanwhile, Spinnakers Brewpub & GuestHouses and Spinnakers Spirit Merchants has become the first employer in B.C.’s brewery industry to commit to paying all its staff and contracted workers a living wage.

dkloster@timescolonist.com

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