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Unifor workers rally in front of Cadillac Fairview headquarters in Vancouver on Oct. 31, 2013, to support 150 cleaners who face layoffs from their jobs at two downtown office buildings. (Wendy Stueck/The Globe and Mail)
Unifor workers rally in front of Cadillac Fairview headquarters in Vancouver on Oct. 31, 2013, to support 150 cleaners who face layoffs from their jobs at two downtown office buildings. (Wendy Stueck/The Globe and Mail)

Vancouver workers rally in support of Cadillac Fairview cleaning staff Add to ...

A small group of workers and supporters rallied at a downtown office building Thursday to support 150 cleaning staff who face losing their jobs or being rehired for the same work at a lower wage.

The workers, employed by North Vancouver-based Servantage, were to lose their jobs at midnight Thursday when Servantage’s contract with Cadillac Fairview expired. Cadillac Fairview, which owns the Waterfront and Pacific Centre buildings in Vancouver, gave notice in September that it would be ending its contract with Servantage, which had provided cleaning services to each of the complexes, which include office and retail space, for more than a decade.

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Since then, the company that is in line to take over the contract has offered to rehire the workers but at a lower wage and with no health benefits, union representatives said.

“It took us 25 years to get to $12.60 an hour,” Ranjit Rai, an eight-year employee, said at the Pacific Centre office tower that is home to Cadillac Fairview’s Vancouver office. “They [the new contractor] have offered us our jobs back, but we would be making 20 per cent less.”

Most of the workers involved are women, including immigrants with limited language skills, who would find it difficult to find new jobs at wages they had progressed to at Servantage, she said.

At Servantage, the workers were members of Unifor Local 3000. Unifor representatives and other labour leaders attended the rally.

B.C. Federation president Jim Sinclair, speaking outside the building, likened the situation for the cleaners to that faced by employees of Ikea in Richmond, where a labour dispute has dragged on since May.

“A company [Ikea] that made $4-billion last year has locked out their workers to bring in a two-tiered wage system,” Mr. Sinclair said. “We have to be united here, because if we are not and they [employers] keep lowering the wages, then we are all the losers.”

Cadillac Fairview put out tenders for the work and hired the new cleaning contractors after a transparent process, Cadillac Fairview spokesman Ultan Kampff said.

Service quality, technology and costs were among the issues Cadillac Fairview considered in awarding the contract, Mr. Kampff said.

He would not comment on the likelihood of cleaners being hired back at lower wages to do the same work, saying that wages would be the responsibility of the new contractors.

“The whole process was very clear and transparent and we felt we did our due diligence and ended up making that decision,” Mr. Kampff said.

The rally resulted in elevators being put out of service for a period as some protesters entered the building in an attempt to visit Cadillac Fairview offices on the ninth floor.

After elevator access was blocked to that floor, a small group of workers gathered on the tenth floor, which resulted in the police being called.

Amid the commotion, office workers grumbled as they were unable to use the elevators to get to their jobs or meetings.

Mr. Kampff said he met with protesters to “defuse” the situation.

Follow on Twitter: @wendy_stueck

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