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
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.”