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Labour + Industry

LNG Canada Janitors Win Pay Hike, Improved Health and Safety

Months after organizing, workers sign first contract that includes 40-per-cent pay hike over three years.

Amanda Follett Hosgood 17 Feb 2021 | TheTyee.ca

Amanda Follett Hosgood lives and writes amidst the stunning mountains and rivers of Wet’suwet’en territory. Find her on Twitter @amandajfollett.

Gary Hill and Murray Innes sound happy to be back on the job at the LNG Canada project in Kitimat.

Both recently returned from time off, Hill for a repetitive strain injury caused by the heavy workload and Innes due to safety concerns as COVID-19 outbreaks sickened dozens of employees at the facility, including some of his co-workers.

But today, they are working — and celebrating.

Industrial janitors employed by Gitxaala Horizon North, a contractor at LNG Canada’s Kitimat plant, received a significant pay increase and “dramatically” improved health and safety protections after signing a first contract this week, says the union representing them.

The janitors had joined Unite Here Local 40 in the summer. Members voted 84 per cent in favour of strike action last month.

“It just showed the company how united we were and determined to stand up for what we believe we deserve,” said Hill.

The strike never happened. Instead, Unite Here Local 40 announced today that Horizon North, which merged with Ontario-based Dexterra Group last year, will provide a 40-per-cent pay increase to staff over the three-year contract.

In addition, it has committed to hiring 30 per cent of its janitorial workforce from nearby Gitxaala, Haisla and Coast Tsimshian nations.

The employees will also receive improved health-care benefits, according to the union.

“A lot has improved,” says Hill, who is from Haida Gwaii but lives in Terrace. “We’re treated a lot better. There is more respect.”

Hill’s hourly wage has already increased more than 30 per cent, from $17.50 to $23 an hour. It makes a big difference, says the single father of three who has struggled to find affordable housing in a region where costs have soared as industrial projects bring more workers.

“It means a whole lot,” he says. “It’s going to make life a little bit easier to pay bills, you know what I mean?”

Hill and three of his co-workers previously told The Tyee about their frustrations over low pay and health and safety concerns as a COVID-19 outbreak spread through the facilities they were tasked with cleaning. They described working more than 10 hours a day hauling heavy equipment in inclement weather conditions. They were expected to travel in cramped conditions with other workers and were not provided proper PPE, they said.

A public health order that capped the number of workers returning to some northern B.C. work sites following the holidays has made the workload more manageable, Hill says.

“Right now, because of COVID, it’s very slow here,” he says. “There are fewer workers here so the workload ain’t that bad.”

960px version of Murray_Gary.jpeg
Gary Hill and Murray Innes, janitors working at the LNG Canada site in Kitimat, recently signed a three-year contract with Gitxaala Horizon North Services that includes a substantial pay increase, commitment to hire local First Nations and improved health and safety protections. After he and co-workers nearly walked off the job last month, Innes says he would ‘highly’ recommend the work to friends following the new contract. Photo submitted.

Prior to the holidays, the number of people employed at the site surpassed 3,200, with about two-thirds of that number actually working on site at any given time, according to an LNG Canada spokesperson.

Between Nov. 1 and Jan. 11, a total of 113 people tested positive for COVID-19 at LNG Canada, 72 of them associated with two outbreaks declared in mid-November and mid-December, according to the Northern Health Authority. The second outbreak was declared over on Jan. 11.

In December, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced a graduated restart to operations at several work camps and sites in the Northern Health region, including LNG Canada and worker accommodations for the associated Coastal GasLink pipeline.

Effective Dec. 29, LNG Canada was required to limit on-site workers to 512. That number increased to a maximum 1,162 workers by the end of January.

On Feb. 11, LNG Canada announced it had received approval for its restart plan from B.C.’s public health officer and Northern Health Authority and that workforce increases would continue over the coming months.

LNG Canada currently has approximately 1,200 workers on site and will gradually increase that number to about 3,000 workers this spring, according to the company. It says the project has implemented enhanced COVID-19 protocols in 2021, including mandatory COVID-19 rapid screening as workers return to the project site in Kitimat.

For Innes, who chose to be home with his family during the COVID-19 scare, it’s a relief to be able to return to work.

“I’m very happy to be back at work, getting paid better wages,” he says. “I’m feeling pretty great and very happy about it. I’m just so happy that everybody decided to come together, unite as one. That’s the only way we won the battle.”

Innes lives in Prince Rupert but is from the Gitxaala Nation, a coastal community about 70 kilometres to the south. Horizon North has a partnership with Gitxaala and has agreed to prioritize the community for job opportunities, according to Stephanie Fung with Unite Here Local 40.

Innes says about eight of the 40 or so industrial janitors he works with, about 20 per cent, are Indigenous. He adds that he knows people in his community who would be interested in the work.

“They’ve been asking me,” he says. With the new contract in place, he says he would “highly” recommend the job.

“We’re all very happy. Because of the COVID we couldn’t celebrate too much,” Innes says. “There’s only a few janitors here and the rest are waiting for a phone call to come back to work, but they’re all excited.”  [Tyee]

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