Friday, 22 June 2018
featured Labour Racism

We will no longer tolerate this! Broad coalition fights firing of Founders Square cleaners

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – In an uplifting display of solidarity some 50 people, trade union activists, members of the faith community, and others, gathered in front of Founders Square in downtown Halifax at noon today to offer support to the seven Black cleaners who were recently unjustly fired, as if their lives don’t count.  

Wanda Lewis, of the Cornwallis Street Baptist Church. Photo Robert Devet

Earlier this month Armour Group,  the building’s property manager, terminated its contract for janitorial services, citing sloppy work and tenants’ complaints as the reason. The newly contracted company, Deep Down Cleaning, refuses to hire the seven Black cleaners who are now out of a job. This runs counter to a longstanding practice in the cleaning industry to retain workers in such cases.

Workers say that the one employee that did get a job offer was white. They also say that they were never told about complaints about their work. Anyways, these complaints aren’t universally shared among tenants. On the weekend we posted a letter from a Founders Square tenant saying that the building was well maintained by the cleaners. Another office worker who briefly spoke at the rally also roundly contradicted the Armour Group claims, and asked that the workers be reinstated.

Originally the workers were told they had a job until the end of the month. Instead, on Friday they were fired on the spot.

“On Friday the workers stood right here and announced that they were filing a complaint with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. At the time the workers were scared, but they knew that what had happened to them was wrong and shameful, “ Jackie Swaine told the crowd. Swaine is president of SEIU Local 2 – Halifax.  “Mere hours after they filed that complaint they were called and told they were terminated, and not to come back to work that evening.” 

Retaliating when a worker files a complaint is a violation of the Human Rights Act all in itself, said SEIU Local 2 organizer Darius Mirshahi, announcing that the workers will file a second complaint as a result.

“Keep your hands off our people. Such retaliation is not acceptable to our community, nor to the larger community,” said Lynn Jones, a well known African Nova Scotian activists with deep roots in the trade union movement. Jones announced the formation of a broad-based and fast-growing coalition to tackle injustices and occurrences of racism at work.

“Nova Scotia has a bad reputation of how it treats Black workers and Black people in general, and we will no longer tolerate this,” said Jones.

Wanda Lewis, speaking as a member of the Cornwallis Street Baptist Church, reminded the crowd that what happened last week was hardly a unique occurrence. “This is why I go to church, it’s about human rights. That’s what we learn at church. To love one another, and when it really matters, to be there for them. It is not about being in church, it’s about doing something,” said Lewis to enthusiastic approval from the crowd.

Among the other speakers offering solidarity and support were activist and poet El Jones, who wrote a great column on the firing for the Halifax Examiner, Nova Scotia Federation of Labour president Danny Cavanagh. Suzanne MacNeil, president of the Halifax-Dartmouth & District Labour Council, as well as a representative of the IWW, and Amina Abawajy, president of the Dalhousie Student Union.

See also: Feds replace unionized cleaners at National Research Council offices in Halifax

There will be twice-daily information pickets and rallies held every day this week outside Founders Square (1701 Hollis Street) from Monday March 26th through Thursday March 29th from 12:00pm Noon until 1:00pm daily, and again from 4:00pm to 5:00pm each day.

SEIU Local 2 in Nova Scotia is located at 163 Wyse Road Dartmouth, NS B3A 1M5.
Telephone: 902 455 1095. Toll Free (N.S. only): 1-800-563-1095.

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