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The good, the bad, and the ugly – An interview with Lynn Jones about the Founders Square janitors and how much of the local press got it wrong

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Long time trade union and anti-racism activist Lynn Jones, who helped organize support for the unjustly fired Founders Square janitors, is very pleased with the way Halifax residents responded quickly and wholeheartedly to the Black cleaners’ predicament. For an entire week people showed up for twice daily rallies and information pickets. Labour groups and the African United Baptist Association of Nova Scotia, an umbrella organization for 19 member churches from all over Nova Scotia, endorsed the protests.   

Lynn Jones at Founders Square. Photo Robert Devet

And Jones has nothing but great memories of her collaboration with Joell and Bill Plaskett, and the performance at last Thursday’s rally of a brand new song the three co-wrote in support of the cleaners.  

But she is angry about the way the unfair treatment of Black workers was sanitized in much of the local press. Reporters, grow some spine, she says, and ask some follow-up questions rather than just write down what the Armour Group and the new cleaning contractor tell you. And certainly don’t apologize to your readers for initially writing the truth, as Metro Halifax did last Thursday.

The good

I was absolutely overjoyed to see the number of Black people who came out on Monday. That Sunday I had made an announcement at church, and I said, “how can we possibly not be out there?” All you have to do is stand, so don’t tell me you can’t do it!

They felt really excited about being there. And the signs were great. Black workers matter! Last hired, first fired! And the chants. I don’t think I have ever attended such a wonderful rally. I felt great being a part of it.

The other thing that struck me is the energy of the SEIU organizers, When (SEIU organizer) Darius Mirshahi suggested we hold two rallies a day, I thought this man is crazy, But it worked. All the while they’re also juggling the Smiling Goat workers…

Also, I was so pleased to collaborate with Joel Plaskett, and with Bill Plaskett, his father, and help write and perform that new song during Thursday’s rally. Bill is a long time social activist, and so is Joel. It was so great to see how Joel, that Juno award winner, still understands the importance of standing up for workers’ rights. Three social activists, sharing this common ground, and putting it to music.

The bad and the ugly

Jones was particularly upset with this Metro Halifax article, a follow up on its earlier reporting but now including a rebuttal by the Armour Group, the property management company that ended the contract with the janitorial company that employed the cleaners.

That article ended on the following note: “Note to readers: This story has been updated to reflect concerns expressed by Armour Group. We apologize for any confusion an earlier version of this story may have caused.”

I was looking forward to sharing the articles about me and Joel, but they ruined it with the Armour Group response. I didn’t want anything to do with that garbage. I never sent those articles to anybody.

What bothered me most was the apology the newspaper issued. We made our case, then the Armour Group comes along and without checking anything Metro apologizes for reflecting what we said. What does that tell you about reporter and newspapers? This is a prime example of what we keep having to put up with. The Armour Group said something, and now that’s gospel. Everything we said got wiped out. Readers who are following developments in the paper now think our info was incorrect and the employers must have been right all along. That’s what the paper said. Never mind that it was all lies.

Armour Group in the article said that no workers were fired. That’s just semantics. What do you call it when you advise people that their contract will not be renewed a couple of weeks before?  Is that fair to a worker who supports their family? How many people out there would think seven days notice is fair?

The article also repeats Armour Group’s claim that the reason for ending the contract was the quality of the work by the cleaners. One of the cleaners explained that those 200 complaints, over the length of that contract isn’t that many, because anytime somebody gets sick and messes up a bathroom, it’s technically a complaint.

Meanwhile the issue that is missed entirely by all reporters is what this does to unionization. The fired workers were unionized, now non-unionized workers with fewer rights will take their place. The union gets busted. Isn’t that something that should be questioned? Isn’t that a story angle that should be pursued?

Their company found the workers other positions, and that is supposed to make everything okay. But not all workers got the same number of hours as before, and we don’t know how much the public pressure played a part in that decision. Affected workers should have a voice in all of this, that’s the bottom line.

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