By Kate Jacobson, February 28 2017 —
Members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 401 came to the University of Calgary campus on Feb. 27 to canvas students about the ongoing negotiations over a collective agreement between Aramark and the union.
Aramark is the U of C’s official food service provider. They operate the residence Dining Centre, provide catering services and run food vendors, including Tim Hortons. Employees at these locations successfully unionized with the UFCW in April 2016 and are currently negotiating their first collective agreement.
Tom Hesse is the UFCW’s chief spokesperson at the bargaining table. He said the union’s biggest issue is staff scheduling.
“There’s a large number of students, people have other jobs. It’s not as though they can make an easy living on the wages that Aramark are paying them,” Hesse said. “People need predictability in their lives. It’s just patently unfair. The employer has adopted an entirely unreasonable position on scheduling.”
Union organizer Joe Irving was one of the members canvassing students on campus. He said the UFCW wants to make sure U of C students are aware of the dispute before a potential strike.
“We’re trying to let them know some of the issues that are happening and getting them to support the workers by giving them a wave or a thumbs up, just to let them know that they’re behind them 100 per cent,” Irving said.
Aramark vice-president of corporate communications Karen Cutler said the UFCW reduced the amount of bargaining days from five to three this month.
“We have had several meetings with the union and continue to bargain in good faith under the guidance of the Alberta Labour Board,” Cutler said. “We were supposed to meet for a longer duration earlier this month but the union reduced the time.”
Irving says the UFCW sees scheduling as an issue of respect and dignity in the workplace. He hopes the issues facing Aramark workers will resonate with U of C students — some of whom work for Aramark.
“Some of these students may deal with these issues on a regular basis so we want to make those connections and let them know that someone is trying to fight for them,” Irving said. “Good jobs come from actions. Good jobs come from people taking a stand.”
Irving says the canvassing on Feb. 27 received a positive response from students.
“By letting students know exactly what the issues are, they’re able to make a connection with the workers that they see on a regular basis,” Irving said.
In the event of a strike, the UFCW would ask students to support the workers by not purchasing anything from any of the Aramark locations.
According to Cutler, Aramark is currently planning for the possibility of a strike.
“Our goal [remains] to reach a fair agreement that works for everyone,” Cutler said. “However, we do have contingency plans in place to continue to serve the campus in the event of a strike.”
Hesse feels that the UFCW is moving closer to a possible strike vote.
“The employer is not showing a sufficient measure of flexibility at this point to prevent a strike vote and a possible strike,” Hesse said. “If the employer isn’t bargaining reasonably and in good faith at the bargaining table, these sorts of tremors appear before there’s an earthquake.”