UNITE HERE Local 75, which represents food services workers at York University and UTSC, held a rally at UTSG on February 23 and are calling for higher wages.

Hundreds of union members and supporters gathered in front of King’s College Road before walking towards Simcoe Hall. The crowd subsequently circled King’s College Circle and gathered around a rock on Queen’s Park Crescent beside the Medical Sciences Building.

UNITE HERE Local 75 began striking on February 9 at UTSC over “poverty-wage jobs,” noting that food service workers at both UTSC and York find themselves in positions that pay low wages, have little job security, and offer few benefits.

Similar rallies have been held at York and UTSC.

Workers at York University began striking February 16. The strike only affects the university’s Keele campus.

York and UTSC have workers subcontracted via Aramark, a US-based food service provider. Aramark previously provided food services at UTSG, until the university began running food services in-house in August 2016.

Workers argue that the wages they are paid at UTSC and York constitute poverty wages. UNITE HERE Organizing Director David Sanders told The Varsity that workers at UTSC make $11.50 per hour. York workers make $12.21 an hour.

“It’s also impossible to live on the $12.21 at York and universities, as anchor institutions in our community, have a responsibility to make sure that nobody works for poverty wages on their campuses, whether they’re working for a subcontractor or directly for the university,” said Saunders.

When asked if the union looked to see something similar to the UTSG takeover of food service, Saunders said it’s “up to the university how it wants to run things. The point is that people should not be working poverty wage jobs.”

UNITE HERE argues that the responsibility lies on universities to ensure that staff are not working for poverty wages.

“Most of our members are immigrants from all over the world who came to Canada to build a better life for themselves… They get here and they’re locked into these dead-end poverty-wage jobs and those should not exist at university campuses, especially at two of the best universities in Canada like University of Toronto and York University” said Saunders.

UTSC Media Relations Officer Don Campbell confirmed in an email to The Varsity that the contract negotiations are “between Aramark and its employees so it wouldn’t be appropriate for us to interfere, but we [at UTSC] do respect the process.”

Similarly, in a statement published online, York stated that it “respects the collective bargaining process which is currently underway between Aramark and Unite Here. As York is not part of these private and confidential negotiations, we are not involved in the bargaining process.”

Aramark could not be reached for comment.

— With files from Tom Yun