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.

New food options coming to UTSG

Robarts Subway, Athletic Centre Starbucks, among St. George dining locations to be replaced

New food options coming to UTSG

As the university transitions to in-house food services on the St. George campus, significant changes are coming to the available food options for students.

The changes come after the university’s contract with Aramark expired on July 31. The contract expiry sparked rallies led by UNITE HERE members, the union which represented food services workers under the Aramark contract.

While some franchises, such as most of the Starbucks and Tim Hortons locations, will stay open under the new U of T management, others will be replaced by alternative dining options. The Subway in the Robarts Library food court will be traded for a campus brand serving Mexican dishes called Tortillas and the Athletic Centre Starbucks has also closed.

In a conversation with The Varsity, Director of Ancillary Services Anne MacDonald explained that the changes were motivated by the aims of creating healthier and more diverse options for students.

“[The University will] focus on more production on campus. The more on campus, the fresher it is, and the healthier it is,” explained MacDonald. “The more options we can put in front of students and other people on campus. You can change up the menu more if you’re doing it all yourself.”

Students may already be familiar with the campus-operated Grab’n’Go, which will be expanding its menu to include a greater range of options. This includes a promise to reduce the amount of processed foods, and substitute them with fresh alternatives.

A similar plan will be implemented in the New College and Chestnut Residence dining halls, which will introduce more variety to the menu. Students with flex dollars will receive 10 per cent off at these locations in the coming school year.

Three new brands will be opening on campus. This month, Pasta Pappardelle, which is a ‘make your own pasta’ joint, will be opening in the Robarts food court. Despite the fact that Pasta Pappardelle is a new brand, MacDonald said that it would build on what was popular about the pasta place that Aramark operated in Robarts. It will be joined by Za’atar, which features a range of different cuisines from the Mediterranean. Za’atar will also open a second location in the Medical Sciences Building.

In September, Urban Deli and Stone Oven Pizzeria will also open in the Robarts Food Court. Urban Deli is a new custom sandwich shop, while Stone Oven already has a location in the MSB and serves traditional-style pizza. According to MacDonald, all of the new brands and locations will be run by experienced chefs, and will utilize locally produced ingredients when available.

UNITE HERE hunger strikes during convocation

Two of seven hunger strikers are U of T cafeteria workers

UNITE HERE hunger strikes during convocation

As graduates celebrated convocation, hunger strikers camped out with tents on the southeast corner of King’s College Circle.

From June 9 to June 15, UNITE HERE Local 75, which represents food services workers on campus employed by Aramark, led a hunger strike to protest the university’s transition to internal food operations.

Inside Convocation Hall, the university handed out flyers to graduates and their families explaining that the commotion outside was due to the conflict over the transition of food service workers from a subcontract with Aramark to employment by the university itself, effective July 1.

Aramark workers have been in conflict with the university since January, when it was announced that the University of Toronto will take over food services at UTSG after its contract expires in July. Issues of guaranteed reemployment, the severity of probationary periods, the continuity of workplace seniority, and the debate over which union should represent the workers surround the transition.

Participating in the hunger strike

There were seven participants in the hunger strike, which included food services workers employed elsewhere and UNITE HERE international organizing director David Sanders, who said he would participate “halfway.”

Two of the participants were food services workers employed at U of T: Maria Goretti Frias, a campus cafeteria worker for over twenty years and Geneve Blackwood, who has worked as a cook at Sid’s Café for 15 years.

Frias told The Varsity before the strike that she was “very nervous, honestly very nervous. It’s going to affect our personal life.”

She continued, “We feel like we are mistreated. We are on probation, and they are taking our seniority over 30 years.”

“We’re trying to get through a point across campus,” said Blackwood. “They’re stripping us of everything and we don’t think that is right. They’re treating us as we’re new workers and we’ve been working for so long. It’s like we’re starting all over again for the same job we’ve been doing for years.”

The 250 Aramark workers have all been re-hired and they will represent the majority of the work force. There is a 90-day probationary period once they start employment under U of T; they will retain their original “date of hire” and receive a new “start date” under CUPE 3261.Protestors in support of UNITE HERE march on campus NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY

Changing employers, conditions

Most hourly wages for workers employed by Aramark at the university range between $12.00 to $12.80. Under the university’s employment, wages will increase to $20.29 an hour. They will also receive U of T employee benefits, which include health plans, pension plans, vacation time, tuition waiver for spouses and children, and childcare assistance fund.

“CUPE also negotiated to ensure that the current Aramark employees are covered by the health plan as of day 1 of employment instead of the second month of employment as required by the Collective Agreement,” said CUPE 3261 president Allan James in an email to The Varsity.

“The most immediate issue is probation,” said Sanders. “During probation, you have zero job security, and for any reason at all, your employer can decide that you are not a good fit and therefore you are terminated. It is very normal for people to not make it through probation.”

On top of the concerns he expressed over the probation, Sanders claimed that some of the workers will not retain their jobs.

[pullquote-features]Most hourly wages for workers employed by Aramark at the university range between $12.00 to $12.80. Under the university’s employment, wages will increase to $20.29 an hour.[/pullquote-features]

“The university announced at the very beginning that they expected that only 85 per cent of the people would continue with the university, implying that 15 per cent won’t make it through probation,” he said.

James explained that CUPE 3261 is in negotiations with the university to waive the probationary period. “In my four years as president of CUPE Local 3261, I have not heard of an employee being let go during the probationary period,” he added.

Anne Macdonald, the director of ancillary services, told The Varsity that the university administration remain uncertain about the origin of the 85 per cent retention statistic; the university has issued statements to the contrary.

Macdonald clarified that during the first town hall meeting between the university and the workers, a university top chef mentioned that 85 per cent of the workers would experience no change to their current duties, but that 15 per cent would experience some changes to their job requirements. Most of these changes would centre around workers handling fresh and local food, which was not the case under Aramark’s contract.

“For sure, we did not say that 85 per cent of the staff would retain their jobs and 15 per cent would go,” Macdonald said.

James echoed this sentiment: “We have no idea where anyone is getting this idea. We have directly asked U of T about this rumour and they have categorically denied the idea of only 85% of the employees making it through the probationary period.”

[pullquote-default]“We fight hard for our workers,” Sanders said. “As far as I can tell, CUPE never fights to protect their members, beyond putting up an online petition. ”[/pullquote-default]


At UNITE HERE’s recent rallies, several protesters held signs that read ‘CUPE 3261: Workers should help workers’ and ‘CUPE 3261: Why are you letting U of T hurt us?’

“We fight hard for our workers,” Sanders said. “As far as I can tell, CUPE never fights to protect their members, beyond putting up an online petition. That does not count as fighting as hard as you can to protect the interests of these members.”

Macdonald acknowledged this tense relationship: “I don’t think [relations between the two unions have] been friendly discussions.”

James said, “CUPE Local 3261 has no fight with UNITE HERE Local 75.”

The University of Toronto has a legally-binding agreement with CUPE 3261 for its employees’ collective bargaining. According to Macdonald, if UNITE HERE successfully legally challenged this agreement, that union could assume responsibility for representing the university’s food service workers. Until then, CUPE 3261 will be the sole representative of food services workers on campus.

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.


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.”

U of T to take over St. George Campus food services

University ends contract with Aramark

U of T to take over St. George Campus food services

On January 27, Aramark employees working at the UTSG campus received a letter from their employer informing them that the university had decided not to extend its contract with the company. The letter arrived on the same day that the university announced it would be taking over all campus food and beverage services for the entire campus. The contract was due to expire in 2016.

According to the letter, the university has scheduled three information sessions for employees to learn more about the transition. Aramark representatives will also be in attendance.

“This move will allow us to take a more active role in creating comfortable and welcoming dining areas,” said Anne Macdonald, director of ancillary services at U of T, “We’ll also be able to enhance the food offerings available to students on the St. George campus, particularly those who don’t live in residence.”           

In early October, the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education sent out a survey to many varsity athletes about the Starbucks in the Athletic Centre, citing that in the coming months the faculty will have the opportunity to suggest changes to the food services offered at that location. Questions and comment ranged from how often student-athletes used the Starbucks, to possible improvements or changes that need to be made to the location,              

The change will affect employees working in locations such as Robarts Library and Sid’s Café, as well as those at New College and Chestnut residence dining halls, both of which were contracted out to Aramark. According to U of T News, the university is intending to offer around 250 UTSG Aramark employees opportunities to work under the new management. 

The prospect of employment has current Aramark employee Robin* cautiously optimistic. “I would hope that a renowned institution like U of T wouldn’t put people out of a job,” they said. When asked about any concerns they had about changes in job description and hourly wage, Robin expressed concern. “Now am I concerned that my pay and hours will change? I am a bit. We haven’t been briefed on the situation yet, so that alone is a bit concerning.”            

Aramark has held UTSG’s food service contract since 2006 when the company replaced Sodexho, a French company who were employed by the university for 16 years. During the transition, many concerns were raised by employees about the future of their collective agreement under UNITE HERE Local 75. Currently, the university has several union groups, many of which are under the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).   

During the transition from Sodexho to Aramark at the Athletic Centre Starbucks, several employees, many of whom were students, were not re-hired.

In July, 2013 Ryerson University decided against tendering its contract with their Aramark in favour of food service operator Chartwells. Ryerson had been covering over $5.6 million in losses which former operator Aramark had agreed to undertake upon signing a contract with the university.              

Owned by British company Compass Group, Chartwells contracts out to Ryerson, UTM, George Brown, and Humber College. Food services at UTSC operate under both independent and institutional providers; one of which is Aramark.              

The university’s announcement not to renew its contract comes some months after the Starbucks in Robarts Library, one of Aramark’s contracts, was shut down temporarily by DineSafe, following a failed inspection

Robin hopes that under U of T, working and managerial conditions will improve. “I am hoping that there will be better organization. Aramark doesn’t seem to have the right handle on scheduling,” said Robin, adding, “Although the problem may come from workers not showing up at times, I’d say this is a direct effect of how things are managed. I want to be able to come into my job every day and know that I have people to work with. Not to mention that I want my work environment to be good, without unnecessary tension.”           

U of T and Aramark are still discussing the terms of the transition, including the date of effective termination.

*Name has been changed at subject’s request

Disclosure: Emma Kikulis was previously employed by Aramark; she no longer works for the company.