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.
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.”