Food services strike at UTSC ends

UNITE HERE Local 75 announces settlement with Aramark

Food services strike at UTSC ends

After nearly two months of striking, UNITE HERE Local 75, which represents food services workers at UTSC, has announced that it has ratified a collective agreement with Aramark.

The announcement was made on April 7 on the union’s Facebook page. The union calls the settlement “groundbreaking” and promises that details will follow.

Food services workers at York University, also represented by UNITE HERE Local 75 and working for Aramark, were on strike from February 2 to March 7. The agreement at York includes $15 per hour and benefits for both full-time and part-time employees.

This story is developing, more to follow

U of T, CUPE indicate all former Aramark food workers offered jobs

University takeover of St. George food services occurred August 1

U of T, CUPE indicate all former Aramark food workers offered jobs

With the university takeover of food services from Aramark occurring at the St. George campus on August 1, the university and CUPE have indicated that all former Aramark employees have been offered employment with the university.

“All Aramark employees were offered a new job with the university at a substantively higher rate of pay with a pension plan and benefits that they did not have before and the ability for them and their children to attend U of T for free,” said Sarah Jordison from CUPE Communications.

While employed by Aramark, hourly wages for most food services workers ranged between $12.00 to $12.80. The university offered food services workers wages at $20.29 an hour with benefits such as a tuition waiver for employees and dependents.

In May and June, supporters and active members of UNITE HERE Local 75 — the union that previously represented food services workers at UTSG — voiced concerns over whether all workers would be rehired by the university, the status of the seniority of the workers, and the 90-day probationary period. The union organized protests and a week-long hunger strike.

Following U of T’s takeover, food services workers are represented by CUPE 3261.

Representatives from U of T had one-on-one conversations with all former Aramark employees in order to establish what their duties at work were and the hours they worked.

“We tried not to change people’s lives too much so we met with them all individually,” Anne Macdonald, Director of Ancillary Services said. “We tried to stick with that but at the same time we are doing things differently, so there will be changes.”

Macdonald noted that most of these changes will occur in the type of work that people are doing. According to MacDonald, cooks can expect to be using different, more fresh, ingredients than they did when employed by Aramark.

Macdonald also told The Varsity that there were six or seven employees, out of 250 food services workers, who did not want to work for U of T; the university did not meet with these individuals.

“It’s not like it was a brand new venture to do this all ourselves, there’s some experience with respect to, certainly the things that count…cooking, the ability to cook and the ability to plan menus and to procure food,” Macdonald added, also noting that University College and Chestnut Residence already control their own food services.

Food service workers to hunger strike during convocation

Protest efforts continue against U of T's takeover from Aramark

Food service workers to hunger strike during convocation

Food service workers at UTSG held a rally last month and are ramping up for a hunger strike during the second week of convocation this month, from June 9 to June 15.

“The fact that workers are willing to go on this fast says a lot about the disparity between what the university claims about the great jobs they are providing food service workers, and the reality of the situation at hand,” said Melissa Sobers, a U of T graduate and a Rogers Centre food service worker that helped organize the May 11 rally. “It also speaks volumes that there are so many other food service workers across the city, including from the York University, the Rogers Centre, and community allies and students willing to stand in solidarity or participate in the fast as well.”

“We don’t take this lightly. We’ve never done it in Toronto before,” said UNITE HERE organizing director David K. Sanders in a statement to The Varsity.

Previously, UNITE HERE locals have held numerous hunger strikes in the United States, including Philadelphia public school aides in September 2013, California Disneyland workers in February 2010, and San Diego Hilton hotel workers in April 2013.

Background

The cohort of Aramark workers has been in conflict with the university since January, when it was announced that the University of Toronto would take over food services at UTSG after its contract with Aramark expires in July. Issues of guaranteed reemployment, the severity of probationary periods, and the continuity of workplace seniority surround the transition.

“The university has done what not even the big private sector food service subcontractors like Aramark have ever done on the campus since these workers organized their union with Unite Here Local 75 more than 14 years ago: they have terminated all of these workers, forced them to re-apply for their jobs and stripped workers with 10, 20, or even 30 years of experience of their job security,” said Sanders. “Now many people who have served the university for a decade or more may find themselves out of work before their probation expires.”

Sanders pointed out that although the majority of workers would be rehired, 15 per cent would not be offered a position again. “That’s more than 30 people and their families that will have their lives destroyed by the university’s insistence on not respecting the existing union bargaining rights and job security provisions,” he explained. “It’s certainly unacceptable to the long-time cafeteria workers and the union. It should be unacceptable to the whole university community.

Continued union confusion

The transition of employment is affected by the consequent transition of labour. As employees of the university, the workers will be moving from UNITE HERE Local 75 to CUPE 3261.

“If necessary, Unite Here Local 75 intends to go to the Ontario Labour Relations Board to challenge the decision of the University of Toronto to try and place these workers into CUPE 3261,” said Sanders. “We believe that the Labour Board will find that the University needs to recognize the existing bargaining rights and union contract with Unite Here. Unfortunately, it looks like this dispute could persist into the next school year.”

Erin Lemon, Executive Director of News & Media for U of T told The Varsity in an email statement that the university has been continuously sending out job offers to Aramark employees. “The transition of the affected employees is going really smoothly: as of today, just about every person has received a job offer from the University,” said Lemon. “We’re working to make the transition for the affected employees as seamless as possible, and we’re really looking forward to them joining U of T.”

Aramark food services workers hold rallies

Public response to U of T's take over

Aramark food services workers hold rallies

The University of Toronto’s decision to take over food services at UTSG has cooked up some controversy among food services workers.

UNITE HERE Local 75, the union that represents food service workers on campus, held a protest and march on the afternoon of May 11, rallying against what they perceive to be employment injustice on the part of U of T.

Close to 150 attendees — including workers, friends, family, and other unions — gathered outside the gates at King’s College Road. They marched up and around King’s College Circle before continuing their protest outside of Simcoe Hall, where the Offices of the President and Governing Council are located.

“We see these people every day in our cafeterias. A lot of us tend to graduate and have part times jobs at food service places,” said Melissa Sobers, a U of T graduate who works in food services at the Rogers Centre and an organizer for the rally. “We need to work to make these jobs good jobs, not just because we see these people, we have relationships with them, we’re occupied in these positions already, but we’re graduating into debt.”

In January, the university announced that it would be taking over food services after its contract with Aramark expires on July 31. UNITE HERE Local 75 argues that this change will affect crucial aspects of its members’ labour contracts, including job security, seniority, and the continuity of a fair wage.

Maria Goretti Frias, a cafeteria worker and member of the U of T community for 25 years, described how this transition is different from previous contract handovers that have seen labour rights continue just as they were.

“I have seen companies gone and come for three decades, and now the university’s taking over. Over the years we never had no problems, we got our jobs, we didn’t have to be on probation, and our seniority carried on,” Frias said. “And now the university decides we are no longer part of the university because we were contracted out, so they’re taking our seniority and they’re putting us on probation.”

Several students were also present at the rally, including members of the University of Toronto Students’ Union executive.

“Our position is to stand behind any member of our community that supports the ecosystem in which full-time undergrad students here are in,” said UTSU vice president, external Lucinda Qu. “The food services staff are definitely a part of that ecosystem.”

The May 11 rally was the second time UNITE HERE Local 75 held a rally in response to the university’s announcement. On May 5, members of the union held a smaller rally inside Simoe Hall, just outside U of T president Meric Gertler’s office.

Anne Macdonald, director of ancillary services at U of T, told The Varsity in an email statement that 100 job offers have already been made and more are expected in June. Macdonald also stated that the university is taking steps to recognize seniority.

“We will further recognise the seniority of the staff in relation to each other for as long as they are employed with us — meaning that within the cohort of former ARAMARK employees, staff will have their seniority recognised for the purposes defined by the collective agreement,” said Macdonald. “This is exactly the type of seniority recognition that would occur in a transition between food service companies.”

Cafeteria workers protest./Courtesy of Melissa Sobers

Cafeteria workers protest./Courtesy of Melissa Sobers

Union or university?
One of the challenges food workers are facing is the transition from UNITE HERE Local 75 to CUPE 3261, which represents service workers at U of T. Local 75 represents food service workers in Toronto and is the union under which they would have stayed despite contractual changeovers. The move to employment by U of T, however, will cause them to fall under CUPE 3261 for the purpose of collective bargaining.

Gertler stated that the demands of the food service workers were ones to be dealt with by the union, not the university. In an interview with The Varsity published May 5, he said, “They will, I gather, be changing unions as a result. UNITE HERE will be — is their former union and they’re going to be, I guess, moving to a different union. That is an agreement that was worked out between the unions themselves and we don’t play a role in that particular process.”

Many at the rally believe the university is responsible for responding to the issues the workers raised. According to Valerie Gaynor, a cook on campus and a member of the U of T community for 16 years, “It’s a university issue… because they are the ones that’s doing it. Because normally, before that, we had Sodexo and Aramark, and they took us with our seniority and everything. And suddenly, now that we’re going over to U of T, they’re going to separate us and change everything.”