In 2017, the ReAct continues the mobilization of maids started in 2016 to demand respect for their rights in the face of the injustices they face in the large cleaning companies in the Lyon metropolitan area.
"Slave. We're slaves. Every day they make us work, rub, wash, pull the sheets, lift the mattresses… 5, 6, 7 hours a day, 6 days a week. We're like slaves. They take advantage that we are foreigners. They know we have nothing. Nothing. Nothing but that 600, 700 when you work hard. »
tells Aminata harshly.
The world of cleaning
Undignified and sometimes illegal working conditions. Yet the cleaning industry is a vast union desert where bosses and managers allow themselves to be abused by the most precarious and isolated employees. As part of an alliance with the CNT-SO union (National Confederation of Workers Solidarity Workers), the ReAct accompanied the strikes of the cleaners of the Shopping Centre of the Part-Dieu at the end of 2016 until their demands were met.
Following this struggle, the reAct organizers continued their work to organize cleaning agents in the hotel, hospital and university sectors.
Strike by the service and cleaning officers of the West Val Clinic
WHY THESE INJUSTICES?
Pay-as-you-go, unreported and unpaid work, non-compliance with weekly rest, blackmail, overwork, union repression. This is the sad reality of the sector and of these women, for the overwhelming majority of foreigners. How can this reality be explained? Why is there so much exploitation in this sector?
In the early 1970s, large companies began to pursue a policy of outsourcing certain activities, including cleaning. Today, this represents about 320,000 people in France.
In the hotel sector, the outsourcing of cleaning is becoming more widespread and allows to postpone on the subcontractor the management of cleaning personnel and, in particular, the imposition of unsustainable work rates, and the multiplication of part-time reinforcing the precariousness of these poor workers.
When cleaning is outsourced, the law is less protective for employees, and stiff competition between providers for contracts puts pressure on lower wages.
Meeting of housekeepers and maintenance workers syndiqué.es at the CNT
2017 was marked by the diversification of the organisational areas: hotels, hospitals, clinics, universities: all public or private establishments subcontracting the cleaning were screened by the organizers. On a regular basis, the unusual presence of union organizers worried the managers – employer and contractor – who multiplied the forms of intimidation of employees.
"The boss had warned against unions by telling us that these are people who are trying to manipulate us to stop our work. When I met Marielle outside the hotel she quickly introduced me to the union, but I told her, "I don't have time." So she asked me for my number and I gave it to her. When I arrived at the hotel the housekeeper said to me: "You ran into a woman in front of the hotel?" – "yes" – "don't answer her" – "I said I didn't answer" and she said "that's good". So I thought maybe she was there to really help us, so I called Marielle."
At the same time, however, the mere presence of union organizers around hotels has prompted some employers to review the compliance of their employees' working conditions with the law. At the Helder Hotel, housekeepers were increased by 150 euros per month. At the Kyriad Perrache Hotel, the management gave them a bonus of 100 euros and the employees all received a summons to occupational medicine. At the Campanile Eurexpo Hotel, a housekeeper was able to obtain papers after working for two months without being declared.
In other cases, it is the collective organization of employees and the shift to non-violent direct action that has led to new rights being gained.
Azurial employees win the end of the payment to the room
One of the great battles of the Sweep the Abuse campaign was fought among the women and valets of seven hotels in the Lyon metropolitan area.
The hotel's maids were all recruited by Azurial, one of France's largest cleaning firms with a turnover of 35 million euros in 2015. All these hotel chains in which it operates belong to the Louvre Hotels group (Kyriad, Campanile, First Class,…) and have signed an ethical charter committing them to outsource the cleaning only to companies respecting labour law. However, the Azurial company allows itself illegal practices such as payment to the room, the absence of mark-up on Sundays and public holidays, or the absence of a lunch break from 9am to 5pm.
As much abuse is suffered by household employees, invisible, who have no contractual connection to their workplace or to other salarié.es who are hired directly there, find themselves totally isolated.
After meeting the women and valets at their workplaces, bus stops and in their neighbourhoods, several mini-meetings per hotel were organized.
Very quickly, discussions between employees highlighted the need to organize at the employer level and to connect with employees of other hotels. Two meetings involving the women and valets of the seven hotels resulted in the writing of a letter to the management of the group gathering the common demands.
"We have no rights. From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. sometimes 5 p.m., not a break, not a glass of water, not even a thank you. And in control, always 100% satisfaction. The work is always perfect. But not even a thank you. We scour the toilet, pick up the condom left on the floor. Slaves. That's all we are. Sometimes we wait an hour or more to drop off a towel. Unpaid. 1 hour for the tumble dryer to finish its cycle. Unpaid. 1 hour waiting for the guest to get out of his room. Unpaid. Paying to the room is enough. »
On March 8, 2017, The management of Azurial agreed to meet the organized employees. After more than two hours of discussion translated into French, English and Spanish to allow all the spokespeople to express themselves in their language, the employees leave moved: they, they won. End of the payment to the task thanks to the implementation of an hourly scoring system, compensatory premium of 250 euros for hours spent unpaid, second work dress and summons of all employees to a medical visit before the end of 2017. The company has also committed to reimburse 50% of home-to-work transport and to systematically increase worked Sundays by 20%.
"This is just the beginning. Now that we have started, we will not give up and continue to loosen our rights."
Carmen doesn't mince words. A few weeks later, she and her colleagues at the Caluire Apartment decided to go on strike on 30 March to get their overtime pay. Even before the strike began, the company, fearing that the movement would spread to all the group's hotels, proceeded to transfer more than 4,000 euros in wages due in January and February 2017 for the 8 employees. This great victory further strengthens the determination of unionized chamberwives to continue the fight for their dignity and improve their working conditions.
Strikes at the West Valley Clinic
In May 2017, the meeting with cleaning agents in the corridors of the Clinique du Val d'Ouest reveals a drastic reduction in the number of employees and a deterioration in working conditions since the arrival of Samsic. Work overload, classification below the conventional level, illegal accumulation of CDD insufficient maintenance products, theft of experience bonuses, abuse of power of the manager…
"Before the strike, there were pres-sions for everyone to work faster. We were understaffed, every day we had to run. Normally, it takes about 10 minutes to clean a room. Whereas then we had to finish everything in five minutes. It was really the race. It annoyed everyone, the duty officers were tense. And at the end we said stop."
After meeting several times, the officers decided to strike on 22 June. Chants, trumpets, pots and slogans prompted patients and clinic staff to join the strikers. After an initial negotiation deemed unsatisfactory, a second one resulted in nice wage increases (from 35 to 150 euros/month), the reinforcement of the workforce, the renewal of equipment and the launch of mediation with the manager who abused her authority and mistreated the employees. She will eventually be removed from office in August.
A few weeks later, a cleaning worker, Asmina, who had been on an apprenticeship contract for three years, had her contract terminated following her participation in the June strike. But the organized employees decide not to leave it at that.
On 7 July, they went on strike to demand the reinstatement of their colleague. This time, the client, director of the clinic, invites himself to the negotiating table. The employees end up getting the reinstatement of their colleague, the signing of the endorsements on the same day acting the wage increases for 01 July and the passage of CDD into CDI.
"What happened to the apprentice, it was taken as a disrespect. Everyone was afraid of losing their place, who would be next?"
And then what?
Faced with fear, with this disconcerting asymmetry of power, the ReAct responds by the trade union organization. Thus, even in a sector considered "unorganisable", the organization of the first concerned helps to develop the sense of belonging to a collective, takes employees out of their isolation and constitutes a powerful weapon to influence the balance of power within a company. By acting in defence of their rights, beyond small victories, it is their desire to change things and their dignity that are restored.
"Before the action I was very scared. But then I told myself that I was safe and that I was going to talk. Now the boss is afraid of us."
Proudly explains Stephanie.
On 27 October, the general meeting of the CNT-SO union was held, during which five new members from the battles fought through the support of The ReAct entered the union's office. This responsibility is part of the continuity of the training provided throughout the year and testifies to their emancipation. To close the year, an exhibition of portraits of leaders, taken by photographer Régis Dondain (http://www.regisdondain.com/) and images of the struggles fought was organized. The inauguration on December 1st allowed housekeepers and maids to proudly tell visitors about the struggles they had won and the struggles they plan to lead. For the future, the ReAct entrusts the CNT SO union with the continuation of the training and support of these activists in their fights.
Two portraits from the December 2017 exhibition