Union for Founders Square janitors claims racism behind hiring

A group of seven Black janitors is filing two human rights complaints alleging racial discrimination and unfair retaliation.

by

MATT DALTON
  • Matt Dalton

Correction and apology:
The following story has been updated to clarify that The Armour Group Limited and/or Founders Square Limited do not manage the Founders Square cleaners, and that hiring and firing decisions are up to the subcontractors involved. We apologize without reservation to Armour and FSL for incorrectly stating the cleaners were their employees. We further apologize without reservation to Armour and FSL for incorrectly insinuating any responsibility for the hiring or firing of cleaning staff or that their actions were motivated by racism or discrimination.

A group of cleaners is subject to a Property Protection Act notice—barring members of the cleaners’ union from Founders Square—which The Armour Group Limited and/or its Founders Square Limited subsidiary obtained “in order to protect the property and ensure a safe workplace for our tenants” after the cleaners staged a protest at Founders Square. During the Friday protest, the cleaners voiced their intention to file a complaint for racial discrimination with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.

“Instead of trying to do right by these workers and offer continued employment, Armour Group retaliated by terminating their employment at Founders Square early via contract cancellation and taken steps to ban them from entering the property,” SEIU Local 2 organizer Darius Mirshahi stated in a press release on Monday.

Armour contracts out Founders Square cleaning services to a third party, a subcontractor that makes its own hiring decisions. At a press conference Friday morning, Mirshahi explained that Deep Down Cleaning Services is taking over from GDI Integrated Facilities Services at the downtown Halifax building. Deep Down only committed to hiring one of the eight non-supervisory cleaners. Out of those eight, this particular employee is the only one who works day shift. He’s also the only one who is white.

“We’re happy that he’s retaining his job. We want all workers to retain their jobs here,” said Mirshahi. “We want that same dignity and respect to be awarded to all the other workers here.”

Mirshahi says Armour Group’s move to keep members of the cleaners’ union away from Founders Square “reinforces how little they care about these people,” and is further evidence that it views the cleaning staff as disposable. As “Section 11 of the Human Rights Act prohibits retaliation against any person on account of an expressed intention to complain under the Act,” Mirshahi's Monday's press release says the union is "initiating the process of filing a 2nd complaint on behalf of these seven individuals" in addition to the planned complaint announced Friday.

Taylor MacLean has been cleaning Founders Square for more than six years. He is one of the seven Black cleaners who find themselves without a job.

“The last thing that we heard from them, we were doing really well,” he said Friday. “Obviously, something’s up.”

MacLean has dealt with discrimination in the past, both due to his job and his race. “You can never really tell—are they treating me like shit because I’m a cleaner, or are they treating me like shit because I’m a Black guy and I’m a cleaner?”

Armour Group told CBC and other media outlets that the contract with GDI was terminated for "poor performance," but social worker Robert Wright—who works in the building—tells El Jones in the Halifax Examiner he’s never noticed any issues in cleanliness due to the workers.


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