Janitors at Lonsdale Quay Market in North Vancouver are celebrating after achieving a successful union organizing drive and certification vote amid the outbreak of COVID-19. Workers at the Lonsdale Quay conducted their vote on April 17th and the winning vote was announced shortly thereafter.
“I had faith that we would win and I’m so happy with the result,” exclaims Saturnina Cuntapay. “Essential workers can get thanked, but that won’t pay the bills. We need respect and job security too.”
Saturnina has worked at Lonsdale Quay Market for four years and led her co-workers in winning their union with SEIU Local 2 this month. The group organized amid increased workload pressures and major uncertainty about job security.
This vote represents the first time SEIU Local 2 had a vote during social distancing restrictions under Covid-19, but it definitely won’t be the last.
“We had to meet up and discuss our plan to form a union, while also keeping a social distance. This was challenging but definitely worth it,” explained Saturnina. “Many of my coworkers were scared at first, but I told them this is how we can demand respect; we need to push. We need paid sick days and benefits, it’s as simple as that.”
As in other provinces, the BC Labour Relations Board has amended the certification process during the crisis; normally an in-person vote is carried out at the workplace, but with COVID-19 the janitors at Lonsdale were mailed ballots to their home address.
A second site, Tsawwassen Quay, which is under the same Quay Property Management, also voted with the BC Board to unionize on March 13th. The ballots were sealed pending a challenge at the Board by the employer, cleaning contractor Dexterra. The Board ruled in favour of SEIU Local 2, and the successful union drive was announced on May 15th.
"We are just trying to get some basic respect. Janitors are always treated like we're the lowest on the totem pole, like we don't mean anything," said Gordon Maivs, one of the graveyard workers at Lonsdale Quay.
Gordon has worked graveyard shifts in the cleaning industry for the last 20 years until deciding now it was time to go union.