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Justice for Janitors

Hey All,
There is a rally in support of the janitors at Founders Square tomorrow (April 12) at noon and I’m planning to head down to show my support. Details here. It’s a busy world we are living in and this janitors issue is complicated and easy to miss if someone doesn’t bring it to your attention like El Jones did for me a couple weeks ago. In talking with folks at the picket it became apparent how this Founders Square incident is the result of a much larger issue. Thought I’d share a few thoughts about this as it’s been on my mind and I’d love to see some changes happen in Nova Scotia so things like this don’t continue to happen.

As more high-rises go up in downtown Halifax there will be more offices, washrooms, hallways and staircases that need cleaning. More janitorial work is good, as long as these janitors are being shown the same respect that everyone in the building enjoys. Unfortunately, there is a long history of systemic racism here in Nova Scotia and that combined with the cost cutting, sub-contracting, cheapest solution approach that often permeates business and government can lead to decisions that disproportionately affect People of Colour and new immigrants, the most vulnerable people in our society.

Landlords, building managers and cleaning companies all share responsibility for making sure janitors are treated fairly but tenants have a duty as well. Imagine how frustrating it must be for the janitors when the buck doesn’t appear to stop anywhere and no one accepts responsibility for decisions like the one at Founders that let go of seven Black cleaners while keeping the one White employee on.

Could tenants help change the game of how landlords award contracts and how companies bid on these contracts? In this world where money seems to do the talking, the answer is yes. The major tenant in Founders Square, and many of our downtown buildings, is our provincial government. Federal, provincial and municipal governments spend our tax dollars and we entrust them to do so in a socially responsible way. Robert Wright, one of the few tenants in Founders Square to speak publicly on the issue, talked about the idea of social justice riders for government contracts. This could take the form of a clause that says if government is going rent space, then the landlord must ensure that workers in that building are being treated fairly and retained even if the cleaning contract is awarded to another company. If this happened many landlords looking to hold on to the government as a tenant would adjust their policies and the cleaning companies bidding on the contracts would follow suit.

If government can subsidize massive development projects like the Nova Centre and table a surplus budget due to anticipated cannabis sales then surely some of these tax dollars can go towards providing stability for the janitors doing unglamorous tasks of cleaning these buildings the government employees use daily. If more rent has to be paid to put a social justice rider in a lease then so it goes but I suspect this is more a case of “where there is a will there is a way”. Set the new bar, everyone will stand up a little straighter and no one has to limbo at some precariously low level. If Halifax becomes a better place for janitors then it becomes a better place.

On a personal note- When El Jones got in touch to let me know about this issue a couple weeks ago I came down to the picket to see what was happening. El introduced me to the Lynn Jones who joked she’d sing with me if I played a tune at the picket. I took her up on it and Lynn, my Dad and I ended up working up a new tune together to play at the rally a few days later. It was a nice reminder that getting out introduces you to people who you might not otherwise meet and reaffirms the knowledge that we’re all in this together.
Thanks for reading.

– Joel

Also: Twitter has been the forum I’ve used over the last few years but I’m hoping to start writing a little more on my site in an effort to work my attention span back to something half resembling what it might have looked like in the late 1990s.

Also also: been taking some time away from the stage but looking forward to firing up the engine again and getting back to some shows with both the Emergency and my Dad this summer. And we’ll see you at the EMCAs.