Alberta company admits to unpaid overtime for workers in wake of unionization dispute

Union accused employer of intimidation tactics to scare workers from organizing; employer points to administrative error on missing OT pay
||Last Updated: 10/27/2010

An Alberta company has acknowledged a union’s claim that it owes more than $40,000 in unpaid overtime to a handful of workers who are involved in a tussle over unionization of the company's workforce.

The workers’ complaints followed a larger labour dispute between Bee-Clean Building Maintenance and its janitors at the University of Alberta in Edmonton who want to join the Services Employees International Union (SEIU).

The SEIU, which already represents Bee-Clean janitors in Ontario and Quebec, claimed some of the Alberta janitors were fired or threatened for discussing unionization. It filed a complaint against Bee-Clean for unfair labour practices during its attempts to get the janitors organized. The labour complaint accused Bee-Clean of monitoring workers who attended a union meeting and issuing a leaflet that suggested the company would lose its contract with the university if its workers unionized.

At a press conference called by the SEIU, one worker, who was from the Philippines, said a manager told him any foreign worker who joined a union would be deported. Some of Bee-Clean's janitors are temporary foreign workers.

The SEIU also announced it had filed a lawsuit with Alberta Employment and Immigration claiming $42,435 in unpaid overtime for five workers.

On Oct. 15, Bee-Clean responded to the SEIU's accusation of unfair labour practices by suing the union for defamation from false and malicious statements. It also acknowledged its own investigation determined the five janitors were owed overtime pay but blamed the failure to pay them on an administrative error. Bee-Clean hired independent accounting firm KPMG to review its entire 3,000-employee payroll to find and rectify the problem.

Alberta Employment and Immigration became involved with the unpaid overtime complaint and said if the audit finds money owing to the janitors, it will order Bee-Clean to give the money to the province, which would then pay the janitors. There would also be an employment standards review that could result in charges, Alberta employment minister Thomas Lukaszuk told the Canadian Press, pointing out the rules apply to both domestic and foreign workers regardless of their place of origin.

"It doesn't matter whether you're a born Albertan or from Ontario or from another country,'' said Lukaszuk.

Bee-Clean said it had apologized to each of the workers and it will ensure they will be paid the full amount they are owed, regardless of any liability limitations outlined in employment standards legislation.

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