KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Pickets in support of the unjustly fired Black cleaners continue, maybe not with quite the turnout we saw on Monday, an inaugural picket that featured speeches and so forth. But still large and noisy enough for cops to pay a brief visit in an unsuccessful effort to convince demonstrators to turn down the volume of their sound system.
People at the rally are upset because Armour Group, the building’s property manager, terminated its contract for janitorial services, citing tenants’ complaints about sloppy work 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.
Fiona Harris, who works in the building, joined the rally today because she feels workers are getting short shrift.
“Armour Group has told the press that cleaners were fired because of tenants’ feedback. I have worked in the building for a long time and I have never seen any issues with cleanliness at all,” says Harris.
“It sounds like Armour Group is hiding behind the tenants. Regardless, firing people is way too serious, I am sure no tenant in the building would want people fired for some dust somewhere or something. Many of the cleaners are people who very recently moved to the province,” Harris says. “ Is this how we welcome people to Nova Scotia?”
Omar Joof, an SEIU activist who himself works in the cleaning industry, and himself an immigrant, can relate to this.
“When you’re Black and immigrant and poor, it all compounds your problems. It makes you vulnerable, it makes it easy for people to trample on your rights. I myself have been asked to leave a premise for no reason. I have been attacked. I have been accused of taking jobs from people, and I have been called racist names,” says Joof. “Racism comes a s a culture shock. Most of us (immigrants) don’t know about racism when we come here. But thank goodness, the majority of people here are not racist.”
Gary Burrill, leader of the NDP has been a frequent visitor to the Founders Square pickets. Burrill, who yesterday asked questions about the cleaners’ predicament at the Legislature, believes the Nova Scotia government, a major tenant in the building, should pull its weight to influence the landlord.
“I would like the government to say that this is not the standard we expect. We don’t wish to rent in a place where discrimination complaints are raised and people are summarily thrown out of their jobs. That’s not how we do business,” says Burrill.
Burrill also suggests it’s high time Nova Scotia emulate the Ontario practice of successor rights, so that collective agreements remain in place when a contract is transferred to a new company. “That could be done in a week in this legislative session. We know government can act quickly if they want to,” says Burrill.
SEIU officials say that at tomorrow’s (Thursday) picket at noon musician and songwriter Joel Plaskett (and likely his father as well) will join the picket at Founders Square and perform a new song in support of the janitors in collaboration with Lynn Jones.
Joof for one is pleased with the support the fired workers are receiving.
“We are not discouraged. I would like to thank everybody, my brothers and sisters from Africa and all the others, the fantastic Canadians who stood by them. This is a progressive city, and nobody should feel alone or walk alone in this city, It is good to be here, and the solidarity has been phenomenal,” says Joof.
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.
Telephone: 902 455 1095. Toll Free (N.S. only): 1-800-563-1095.
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