A hot air balloon flies over parliament hill in Canada

The Service Employees International Union Local 2 has launched the Invisible to Essential campaign, calling on property owners, managers and cleaning contractors to work together to make immediate improvements to cleaner’s working conditions, according to a press release on the Justice For Janitors website.

SEIU Local 2 represents more than 10,000 janitors across Canada. 

“I have to work even though there is great risk to my own health,” said Vilma Lopez, a janitor working in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada. "We are providing an important service to the public and deserve more respect for our hard work.” 

The campaign demands include an immediate $2 per hour raise; keeping cleaners employed during the crisis; and ensuring all cleaners are working safely with the required training and personal protect equipment (PPE). 

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many otherwise unnoticed service workers being thrust into the spotlight. Despite this, janitors continue to be among the lowest paid and most underappreciated workers in society. Janitors say every worker needs to earn enough to pay the bills, job protection, and appropriate health safeguards. 

Slim Gedeon, who cleans City Hall in Canada's capital of Ottawa, says society is now starting to notice how important janitors are.

“We are the ones disinfecting to keep our city safe," says Gedeon. "I am constantly disinfecting elevator buttons, doorknobs and working hard to ensure the virus does not spread.” 

Janitors face the triple threats of layoffs, low wages, and health impacts of COVID-19. They ensure essential workplaces are kept clean, including healthcare facilities, public transportation systems, airports, vital shopping locations, courthouses, morgues, parcel delivery facilities, police stations, office buildings and more. Janitors are also deep cleaning shutdown workplaces to ready them for the return of the public when the time comes. These include the schools, colleges and universities children attend.

The janitors’ union has been in contact with employers since the beginning of the crisis, ensuring all required safety measures were being met. Most recently an open letter was delivered addressing the Canadian government’s new position on mask-wearing. 

“People say that we are important, but do they really treat us that way?” says Gedeon.