KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – It’s been nearly a month since the Founders Square cleaners were told that their services were no longer needed. because property manager Armour Group had contracted a new company, Deep Down Cleaning, to take care of janitorial services in the downtown Halifax office building.
That these seven Black workers, many of them recent immigrants, had dependents who relied on their employment, did not seem to matter at all. With barely two weeks notice their jobs were terminated, and no manager or boss involved in their firing really gave it much thought.
But it does matter to their union, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 2, and to the workers’ supporters who have been holding boisterous and well attended rallies at Founders Square on a regular basis ever since.
It also matters to Jason MacLean, president of the Nova Scotia Government & General Employees Union, who called out Nova Scotia as a province where working while Black means you are very likely to encounter racism.
“The Black experience in Nova Scotia is, shut up, put your head down, don’t say anything, or else,” said MacLean, who went on to relate how, when working as a teenager at a drugstore, he was pushed out to accommodate a white relative of the owner, “That’s the experience of Black workers in Nova Scotia. You have to stand up, don’t ever be silent!”
Also at the rally was Nova Scotia NDP leader Gary Burrill, together with NDP MLAs Lenore Zann, and Tammy Martin. Burrill wants the government to enact successor rights legislation to ensure that collective agreements remain in place and workers keep their jobs when a contract is transferred to a new company.
Burrill also suggested people call Labi Kousoulis, MLA for the Founders Square area and minister of Labour to help make it so. “The number to call is 444-8200. Disrespect has to go!,” Burrill lead the crowd in chanting.
Other speakers at the rally included poet, teacher and activist El Jones, Dalhousie Student Union president Masuma Khan, activist Raymond Sheppard, CLC representative Tony Tracy, SEIU Local 2 president SEIU Local 2 – Halifax president Jackie Swaine, and veteran activist Lynn Jones, who was upset about much of the local press coverage of the firing of the workers.
“You must report fairly, and I don’t mean that after we give you the facts, then when the Armour Group comes up with a different story somehow that becomes what you view as the truth,” said Jones.
Taylor MacLean, one of the workers who lost his job at Founders Square last month, also spoke.
“All these people came out today, and they came out because they believe in our cause,” said MacLean,. “You have to give props where props are due, to people like El Jones, people like Lynn Jones who has been doing this since before I was born, Masuma Khan, all these people here”
“We read in the press that one of Deep Down Cleaners’ co-owners is Black. How often do you hear that excuse. It’s like saying my neighbour up the street is Black, and I know him. When I look at the company’s website I don’t even see his name. Why use him as a shield? ” MacLean asked.
SEIU organizer Darius Mirshahi told the crowd that the coalition in support of the fired workers isn’t going away. “Just because it’s not quite as much in the media doesn’t mean it’s over, we have to keep this issue alive. The Armour Group may have thought this was over, but it isn’t,” Mirshahi said.
See also: The good, the bad and the ugly. Lynn Jones about the Founders Square janitors and how much of the local press got it wrong
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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