Campus food workers dish out dissent

Food service workers are the lowest paid of all staff at U of T’s campuses, and U of T should be held accountable for the company it contracts out to for essential services, says the workers’ union. On Feb. 11 UNITE/HERE, which represents food service workers at U of T’s St. George and Scarborough campuses, will hold a rally outside of Sid Smith to protest what it argues are unfair labour practices on the part of food services giant Aramark Corporation.

Organizers of the rally, which is supported by the University of Toronto Students’ Union, say they would like the university to outright end its contract with Aramark. “Aramark has consistently been a problem,” said Alexandra Dagg, Canadian Director of UNITE/HERE. “We had to have a strike vote at Scarborough campus to get them to treat the workers seriously […] That’s a pretty strong move to get attention.”

Aramark replaced Sodexho as the university’s main food service provider in 2006. Dagg says that the union’s relationship with the former company was better, and that supervisors at Aramark have treated workers poorly, not allowing some to take their scheduled, legally required breaks. Of most recent concern, however, is the company’s attempt to renege on the collective agreement it ratifi ed in November to pay Scarborough workers the same rate as workers downtown. Now, says UNITE/HERE, Aramark is refusing to implement the negotiated wage increases.

“We’re coming back to the university again because they were the ones who picked the client, and when Aramark doesn’t treat it’s workers properly, we say the university should get involved,” Dagg said, adding that the labour issue also strikes home with students. “You use our services, you eat food on campus, you buy coffee on campus, maybe you live in residence and have three meals a day that are made by these workers.”

VP external Dave Scrivener says that the UTSU supports the rally out of solidarity with the food service workers, but also because a number of student issues are at play. He gives Aramark credit for listening to student concerns on issues such as using local produce, but says the company has not addressed the lack of diversity of food options, the cafeteria hours that do not match student schedules (most cafeterias close by 6 p.m.), and what Scrivener calls Aramark’s “tradition of avoiding student hires.” After looking into their membership, Unite/Here says it cannot find a single student hired at St. George in food services.

“They’re not entirely evil, but there are concerns that we’ve had that we’ve brought up repeatedly, especially around diversity, that we haven’t seen addressed in a meaningful way,” Scrivener said.

Unite /Here has staged similar protests in the United States, where Aramark has faced a number of disputes with district school boards, universities, and state agencies on issues ranging from financial management to public health to poor treatment of workers. In one instance, the company, which is the largest food service provider in the U.S., was dismissed by the Philadelphia School District two years into a five-year contract after it burdened the district with a $7-million deficit.

Representatives from the university were not available for comment at press time.

Indie Interview: MGMT Rox, Rly

If you think you haven’t heard MGMT’s breakout track “Time to Pretend,” you actually probably have. Either it’s been in the background at a bar or trendy brunch place, you streamed it on MySpace or Hype Machine while high, or you’ve heard it bleeding through your hipster roommate’s wall. It’s got that ubiquitous quality that all too-catchy indie-pop seems to achieve today. It sounds like it could score a hip car commercial, but the lyrics wouldn’t pass the censors (“I’ll move to Paris, shoot some heroin, and fuck with the stars”).

“There was a time in 2006 when we stopped talking and weren’t making music,” says MGMT guitarist Andrew VanWyngarden over the phone. At that point, the duo (which also included vocalist Ben Goldwasser) had just graduated from Wesleyan University in Connecticut, recorded an EP, and gone on tour opening for Athens, Georgia spaz-poppers Of Montreal. By the end of the year the two were living in different cities in New York state, and Goldwasser was on the verge of moving to California. That’s when they got an email out of the blue. It was an offer for a major label record deal with Columbia. “We thought about it for a good two months… it was pretty crazy,” admits VanWyngarden “Signing with them would mean we’d have to start acting like a band.”

After finally deciding to ink the deal, their first order of business was to record their first LP, the recently released Ocular Spectacular, with Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann. Next, the duo expanded to become a quintet as Goldwasser and VanWyngarden recruited old friends from high school and summer camp to fill out their live show.

Now MGMT (pronounced as just the single letters, VanWyngarden tells me) is in the throes of a major tour of the U.S. and Canada. Yesterday night saw them play to a sold-out crowd at the El Mocambo. But between the spectacle of shows lies hundreds of miles of frozen roads. How are MGMT coping with life on the highway?

“We all have cabin fever, and it’s easy to have little panic attacks,” admits VanWyngarden. “What I would like to be doing on the road is reading a lot and drawing, but what I end up doing is putting music on and looking out the window for like four hours.”

MGMT plans to spend the rest of the year touring Ocular Spectacular hitting up Europe in the spring. Watch for them to sweep back through Canada sometime in the summer

Listen to MGMT at:

UBC scared shut—twice

The RCMP has issued a campus-wide warning at UBC and launched an investigation after prank threats twice brought campus activity to a halt,

On Jan. 29 the Biological Sciences Building was locked down after someone phoned in a “threat.” On Feb. 6, another threat was made against UBC, although this time no particular building was specifically mentioned. Nevertheless, classes in the BSB were cancelled and the media told to stay away. Police have not yet disclosed the nature of the threats, or whether they targeted a specific group of people.

The campus stayed open both times, but students were warned of the possibly dangerous situation.

“It’s ridiculous to cancel classes in this building when the supposed threat is all over campus,” student Elshan Valipour told the Province.

The RCMP said that the two threats may be linked. Police have publicly appealed to whoever made the threats to seek professional counseling.

This week, UBC plans to test a new security system. At a cost of $30,000 per use, the Aizan system notifies the entire university community via email and voicemail of suspected threats. Only 38 per cent of students have provided their cell phone numbers.

Men’s basketball with a chance to catch ottawa for second in the east as playoffs loom

The Varsity Blues will play a home/road double-header, this weekend against divisional rival Ryerson Rams. Toronto (15-5) will need to have a strong end to their season following a split in their previous two games against York and Laurentian. If they can win one of two against Ryerson, the team will tie the Ottawa Gee Gees for second place in the East division with 32 points. The Blues who lead the season series against Ottawa 2-0 would automatically be awarded second place and given a first round bye in post season play. The first round of the playoffs officially get underway on Feb. 20, but with a bye Toronto would not have to play again until the quarter finals on the 23rd.

Things didn’t get off to a good start this past weekend against York. Facing the crosstown Lions for the second time in 2008, the Blues fifth ranked defense were simply dominated, losing in an improbable 76-67 decision. The game had all the makings of a Blues’ blowout early in the first half as they jumped to a 20- 6 first quarter lead, displaying why they’re ranked fifth in the country.

However, Toronto’s offence cooled as York, refusing to lay down and die, kept the game within arm’s length by whittling U of T’s lead down to single digits before the half time buzzer 36- 18. At the half, York’s leading scorer Tut Ruach had scored only a single point on a free throw, after shooting 0- 7 from the field.

“When I saw he only had one point at the half, I was thinking, you know what, he’s too good for that,’” said Blues head coach Mike Katz. Ruach exploded out of the gate in the third quarter, in what Katz characterized as “A scoring record for the second half.” The fourth-year guard garnered York’s first 14 points, outshooting U of T’s entire team 21-12 in the quarter. Rauch finished with 31 points in the half equaling the Blues total.

“It’s unbelievable. It’s an unbelievable game.” Katz remarked of Rauch’s performance. “I mean he was due to break out all year. And that team is coming,”

Also contributing for the Lions was 6’10 centre Stefan Haynes who was a tower of power on the defensive end, finishing with 14 rebounds, and five blocks to go along with his nine points. Blues forward Ahmed Nazmi was the Blues best player with a double double, scoring 15 points and 14 rebounds. Guard Nick Magalas had 15 points of his own, while fifth-year guard Mike DeGiorgio had 11 assists for the Blues.

After the game U of T coach Mike Katz was gracious in defeat: “They’ve struggled a lot all year, but I really felt that it was a team on the rise…they just beat us tonight,” Katz said. Still Katz points to his team’s own uncharacteristic play on Friday night as another factor in the upset. “I thought we panicked a bit, and didn’t stay with our offence,” Katz said. “Maybe guys started to think that all he had to do was show up and win. You gotta do it on the floor, so we can get back to work.”

Despite the loss Toronto was able to salvage the second game of the weekend with a 94-71 win against Laurentian. Despite resting all of its starters in this game, in anticipation of the playoffs, the Blues were able to rely on the solid contributions of guard Nick Magalas who finished with a team leading 17 points for the Blues.

Rental law could leave students homeless

A housing crackdown at Oshawa’s University of Ontario Institute of Technology and nearby Durham College could force as many as 500 students out of their homes.

With 5,000 undergraduate students at UOIT, 5,500 students at Durham, and only 1,300 residence spots available, some students have opted to live in the subdivisions surrounding the institute, transforming suburban homes into overcrowded and illegal student houses. As many as nine students live in some houses, with the driveways packed with five to six cars. Not everyone is pleased with the rental housing boom—a city bylaw is set to pass this week requiring landlords’ property to be licensed, and the number of bedrooms in the houses to be capped at four.

According to a January news release posted on UOIT’s website, students are concerned that the bylaw will significantly increase housing costs, potentially forestalling their education, and even discouraging prospective students from choosing the college or institute in the fall.

Fraser McArthur, president of both UOIT and Durham College’s student association, points out that the university cannot function without students. However, City Councillor and chair of the committee for the bylaw Louise Parkes says that there are health and safety concerns that are impossible to ignore.

President Ron Bordessa of the institute does not plan to discuss the bylaw in a special council meeting this week, but said that he hopes city councillors will reconsider their decision.

Exciting season finale ends in victory for first-place women’s basketball

The women’s basketball team will have a little bit of time now to enjoy thrilling victories against York and Laurentian this past weekend, With the victories the Blues accomplished two feats: They displaced York from first place overall, the first time in three years that the Lions finished out of top-spot, and they also earned a bi into the quarterfinals of the playoff’s giving them exactly 11 days to prepare, but just as importantly, to enjoy their new number one status. With 18 wins on the season women’s basketball matches it single best total, which they last accomplished in 2003. When asked who they would prefer to play in the playoffs, Toronto head coach Michelle Belanger was not about to get ahead of herself. “No, I’m not even going there. Not going there because that’s just way beyond.”

In their final two games of the season, with first-place in the OUA East on the line, U of T came up with a solid 40-minute performance to defeat the seventh-ranked York Lions 79-68 in front of a full house at the Athletic Centre Friday night. It was a different story from their previous meeting when the Lions defeated Toronto 73-70 at York Jan 26. In that game, the Blues played timidly in the first and third quarters and dug themselves a hole too deep to climb out of.

On Friday night however, their game plan was simple: no easy baskets. “We were going to give them the physical treatment tonight, but in the last game against York, we started out extremely tentative,” said fifth-year forward Laila Bellony. “We made a pact between us that we were going to make them earn every basket. Nothing easy tonight.” The score at half time was a little misleading. The Blues were up by only three points despite limiting the Lions to just 32 per cent shooting from the floor. The offence finally shifted into high-gear in the third quarter, starting with a 19-5 run and capped-off with a Christine Cho three-pointer. York went on a small run of their own in the fourth quarter when York’s leading scorer, Brenan Rurak, hit a triple to cut the Blues’ lead to seven.

From there, though, the Blues put the game away. York’s defense could not stop the Blues down the fourth quarter stretch.

Blues forward Christine Cho led all scorers with 20 points in the second half. Guard Kyla Burwash, despite playing with a sore left hand, tallied 14 points, five rebounds, and three steals. Bellony kept her promise by playing aggressive defense every minute she was on the floor. She also made a solid contribution on the offensive end with 15 points and five rebounds in only 13 minutes of play.

Blues head coach Michele Belanger praised the excellent work of her subs after starting forwards Amanda Van Leeuwen and Bellony got into foul trouble early in the first quarter.

“That hurt us at times, but I thought the girls coming off the bench did a great job maintaining momentum,” Belanger said. She was also pleased with the complete 40-minute performance her team gave, especially after the disappointing three-point loss at York.

“We played 40 minutes… We told the girls after the (Jan. 26) game that they played outstanding basketball for six minutes,” Belanger said. “So I said if you could play that well for six minutes, imagine what you could do if you played 40-minutes fairly intensely.”

The team was able to carry the momentum from this game into their season finale against Laurentian. The Voyagers entered the game third overall in the East just behind the Blues, and they battled all the way too the final buzzer. After the first quarter Laurentian had the lead 21-17, but with victory, and first place still within reach, the Blues battled back outscoring their opponents 21-11 in the second to take a six point lead at halftime. Despite a late rally by the Voyagers in the fourth quarter the Blues were narrowly able to capture the win 70-69, on the strength of Allaine Hutton’s 21 points and eight rebounds. Christine Cho also contributed to the victory with 21 points of her own on 7-13 shooting.

Carleton elections off to a chaotic start

As she prepares to step up as chairperson of the Canadian Federation Students-Ontario, Shelley Melanson is dealing with infighting and accusations of misconduct at her own students union. Melanson, president of the Carleton University Students’ Union, will take over CFS-O’s top job this June. Political tensions at CUSA have run high during her tenure.

Carleton’s paper the Charlatan reported on a disput between Melanson and Helen Choi, a CUSA council member, in a Jan. 31 article. Choi, whose motion for new training for councilors, alleged that Melanson and members of the CUSA executive unilaterally decided whether to discuss motions. Melanson dismissed these claims, saying that Choi’s actions are politically motivated and that Choi is seeking the CUSA presidency. Furthermore, Melanson recounts how Choi had commented to her that she “didn’t want to promote student conflict but went to The Charlatan.”

Devon Monkhouse, a CUSA member and a candidate for VP internal, also criticized Melanson, saying she was more interested in working with special interest groups than engaging with students. “A large voting block on council that votes for executive, with their super majority, push CFS initiatives through council,” he said, adding that only those who toe the party line can advance in CUSA.

Monkhouse said that CFS has a vested interest in Carleton, the only CFS-affiliated campus in Ottawa, aiming to train and coordinate students to use them as Parliament Hill lobbyists.

The CUSA kerfuffle, according to Maclean’s education blogger Joey Coleman, is common at Ontario campuses. “Student leaders are obsessed with their own power and egos,” he said.

Coleman said that student unions such as CUSA receive significant amounts of funding, giving them a “perceived status of power.” He said Melanson’s new job was a chance to leave the drama behind: “Shelly has an opportunity to re-invent herself.”

Varsity Blues miss golden opportunity against Hawks

The Varsity Blues women’s hockey team may have let an opportunity to upset the OUA-leading Laurier Golden Hawks slip through their fingers, but their last regular-season home game of the year was one to remember.

The game had no effect on the standings, since Laurier and U of T had already clinched the number 1 and 2 spots in the OUA, earning a first-round playoff bye, but you wouldn’t know it based on the spirited play in the up-tempo Saturday afternoon affair. A larger-than-usual crowd was on hand, treated to an impressive display of hockey by two very talented teams in what turned out to be a nail-biter.

The top two teams in the OUA were neck-and-neck for 65 minutes, the outcome unclear until the final horn sounded. Both registered equal shots in the first and third frames, as Laurier held only a one-shot edge in the five-minute overtime period. The Golden Hawks came out strong in the second period and peppering Toronto with shots during three unanswered Blues penalties, but goaltender Stephanie Lockert kept the game close.

Meschino scored the last-minute goal on a mad scramble for the puck in the Blues’ crease with Laurier goaltender Liz Knox pulled for the extra attacker. A shot fired at the open net went wide and the faceoff came back into U of T’s zone on an icing charge. The puck didn’t cross the blue line again until the referee dropped it at centre ice following the Laurier goal.

Annie Del Guidice opened the scoring for the Blues at 17:39 of the first period, ending an almost 138-minute goalless drought against Laurier. She picked up a rebound on a shot by Emily Milito, and lifted the puck over a sprawled Knox on the power play. The Golden Hawks responded on their next chance with the main advantage early in the second period, when a couple of Laurier forwards jammed at a loose puck until Andrea Ironside found the back of the net.

Karolina Urban scored the goahead goal for Toronto in the third period for another special-team tally—this one shorthanded. Urban stole the puck from a Golden Hawks defender, coming in on Knox, who left the crease to challenge the goalie. In return, she spun around and fired into the empty net.

Although the Blues were not able to hang on to the lead, the game represented a victory after being shut out 2-0 in two previous meetings with Laurier. “I think we had small successes,” said Lockert. “I think that spirits are up…The focus is there knowing that we can be successful.” Head Coach Karen Hughes also had a positive outlook. “I thought we did a lot of good things today and gave up a goal in the last few seconds,” she said. “That’s okay. Some days that’s going to go your way, other days it’s not…We know what we need to do to play well against them.”

The coach was less pleased with the visiting team’s physicality. The game featured more contact than usual, and although U of T contributed to this tone, Hughes felt Laurier played a larger part. “They ran over us at times, like that player that hit our number 21 in the third period. That would be a penalty.”

Lockert felt the Blues could’ve responded a little better to Laurier’s style. “We weren’t taking the body as much as we would’ve liked to,” she said. The fifth-year goaltender was named player of the game for her 28-save effort in the last regular-season home game of her Blues career. She and five other graduating students— including captain Jill Clark, OUA points leader Janine Davies, forwards Laura Foster and Emily Patry, and defenceman Sarah Poirier—were honoured before the game. “I was really excited,” said the coach, “I definitely remember every moment of that game.”