By Kate Jacobson, February 1 2017 —
Bargaining negotiations over a collective agreement between Aramark and the labour union that represents its employees at the University of Calgary will continue after union representatives rejected the corporation’s first offer.
As the U of C’s official food service provider, Aramark runs food vendors, operates the residence Dining Centre and provides catering services on campus. The company took over from Chartwells in March 2015 and has a five-year contract with the university.
Aramark employees at the U of C successfully unionized with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 (UFCW) in April 2016. The UFCW is currently bargaining with Aramark over a collective agreement for U of C workers.
Aramark presented its first offer to the union a few weeks ago. Aramark employees at the U of C rejected the offer, but UFCW chief negotiator Tom Hesse said bargaining will continue.
“The offer doesn’t get us where we need to go,” Hesse said. “But the bargaining process isn’t over [and] Aramark said this isn’t their final offer.”
Hesse cited wages and benefits as major concerns for Aramark employees. He claimed employee benefits have been reduced since the university switched food service providers.
“Employees say they just want the same reasonable benefit package they used to have,” Hesse said.
The union also claimed that Aramark refused to offer any employees more than the provincially legislated minimum wage, regardless of seniority or work performance.
Aramark spokesperson Chris Collom declined an interview request, stating the company does not comment on the specifics of ongoing contract negotiations.
“We will continue to bargain in good faith and hope to reach a new agreement soon,” Collom wrote in an e-mailed statement.
Hesse believes the push to unionize last year was a direct response to workplace dissatisfaction. When Aramark employees at the U of C voted to unionize, turnout was just shy of 84 per cent, with 90 per cent of voters in favour of unionization.
“When 91 per cent vote for the union, that tells you something about the measure of discontent in your workplace,” Hesse said. “That is a very clear mandate and is a very clear statement that there is something wrong in that workplace.”
The UFCW recently announced strike pay for their employees. In the event of strike action, employees that make under $15 per hour will receive $12 per hour picketing pay. The vast majority of Aramark employees at the U of C fall into this category.
Hesse said this announcement is not meant to encourage workers to go on strike.
“What generous strike pay is intended to do is to allow employees — when the final contract offer comes through — to be able to look at it and be able to make a decision free of economic worry,” Hesse said. “Some might take an offer just because they can’t afford to go on strike, even if it isn’t a fair offer.”
If Aramark and the UFCW cannot successfully negotiate a collective agreement, provincial labour laws require both parties go through a mediation process before a strike vote or lockout could occur. This mediation would be non-binding and if both parties cannot reach an agreement, the union can legally vote to strike with 72 hours notice.
“I believe there will be a strike if the employer does not offer a more reasonable approach,” Hesse said.
If a strike occurs, food workers could picket the U of C in multiple locations to try and dissuade members of the campus community from supporting Aramark.
“We would be asking academic staff, students, other workers [and] members of the AUPE not to cross the picket line,” Hesse said. “The implications and the impact on the university could indeed be much broader than just the food services.”
The most recent bargaining meeting between the UFCW and Aramark was on Feb. 6 at Hotel Alma.