Theresa Grabowski and Kyla DeCoste are two of 70 custodians who now earn just over $18 an hour, up from the $16.05 per hour, following a labour dispute with their employer GDI Services.
“Compared to historically what we’ve gotten on our contracts, that this was much better than what we’ve ever gotten,” says Grabowski, “and I think that made (workers) feel that their work and value was recognized.”
The two sides reached a deal in early September. DeCoste and Grabowski say their work should be recognized for not only keeping Durham College and Ontario Tech clean, but also preventing COVID-19 in check at both campuses.
“We had extensive COVID-19 protocol training and focused on high touch point areas and common spaces to ensure we had no outbreaks,” says DeCoste. “We were successful at that for two years. That should speak volumes.”
They say cleaners at Durham College and Ontario Tech also take responsibility beyond their job, by doing things such as giving students directions or reporting inappropriate or unusual behaviour.
“We’re the moms and dads of the campus,” says Grabowski. “We know the shortcuts, we know the nearest washrooms, we know where security is, we know lots of stuff about this campus.”
DeCoste said cleaners go “above and beyond.”
“From doing extra, unscheduled office cleans or unexpected cardboard and garbage pickup to please staff, to giving directions to lost students and motivating them by wishing them ‘good luck’ during exam times,” she said.
Grabowski said cleaners also create relationships with students and faculty.
“We’re covering and cleaning for events in the gym and we watch the school teams, and we get to know these people like a family,” she said, “and so we take pride in our work here and it just doesn’t feel like its recognized as something valuable or worthy.”
For example, DeCoste says she became friendly with nurse technicians working in the CFCE nursing lab and helped them during the pandemic.
“We worked hand-in-hand as a team to keep the building as safe as possible,” she says, “seeing that these students were doing placements in hospitals and retirement homes.”
DeCoste has worked for GDI at both campuses for 11 years, and Grabowski for 12. Their latest raise to just over $18 an hour is the highest they’ve seen.
Grabowski says she isn’t sure it will make a difference.
DeCoste says her pay was so low at Christmas in 2020 that her friends gave her three $20 bills as a present.
“I started to cry and told them ‘I cannot accept this gift’. They said ‘don’t be silly, you deserve it for all your hard work,” she said.
Custodians were locked out for 16 days at the start of the semester before a settlement was reached.