toronto janitor strike

Toronto is about to get extra dirty as thousands of janitors prepare to strike

Thousands of janitors are set to vote on a strike action this weekend that, if successful, would leave public spaces all over Toronto without anyone to clean them, from shopping malls and airports to schools and public transit.

Members of the Service Employees International Union Local 2 (SIEU Local 2), which represents over 4,000 essential workers in the GTA, say they've been working hard to negotiate a widespread pay bump from their employers in light of skyrocketing inflation rates.

"Most of my co-workers are working two jobs to be able to pay the bills now," said member Erna Bearneza, who has spent the past decade working for GDI Integrated Facility Services — a major employer that provides janitorial services to office buildings, hotels, industrial facilities and more.

"Inflation has caused everything to go up," said Financial District cleaner Olga da Cruz similarly in a release published by the union on Monday. "Groceries, fish, meat, rent, gas, clothing, school supplies, everything!"

At present, the highest rate a custodian can earn per hour is $16.45, though the union says most earn about $15.70 an hour. Some also get a 50-cent-per-hour top-up for overnight shifts.

With inflation jumping to a new 31-year-high of 6.7 per cent in Canada last month, low-wage workers are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. Heck, everyone is finding it difficult, but those living in (or commuting daily to) exorbitantly expensive cities like Toronto have been particularly hard hit.

"The janitors, most of whom have worked tirelessly through the pandemic without any kind of pandemic pay, clean healthcare facilities, public transportation systems, courthouses, morgues, parcel delivery facilities, police stations, commercial office buildings, shopping malls, food courts, post-secondary institutions, private schools, airports, and more," reads the SIEU release.

"At the cleaners' current wages, even basic necessities are getting out of reach."

Members of the union will be holding a strike vote this Saturday, April 30, at the Courtyard by Marriot hotel near Yonge and College Streets. If the vote goes through... well, we could soon all see just how filthy this city can get without constant cleaning.

"In the early days of the pandemic, cleaners went from invisible to being called essential. They continue to be amongst the workers protecting public health and safety during the COVID-19 crisis. That however has had no impact on their pay," says the SIEU, noting that workloads have also increased as a result of pandemic-related deep cleaning measures.

"Janitors have historically faced an uphill battle to be recognized for the important work they do for public health and safety... To maximize their profits, property owners & managers, including governments and pension funds, have created a competitive-bidding model that puts downward pressure on wages and pushes janitors to be do more and more, often with less staff and less time."

Fingers crossed that the fat cat companies employing these people listen to their demands ahead of Saturday's vote.

Otherwise, public spaces across the city could become unsightly and potentially hazardous within days. Have you ever been to a poorly-maintained public park or gas station restroom? I'm expecting that, everywhere, but with a lot more garbage involved.

Lead photo by

William Self

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