Last Friday, Convocation Mall was filled with roughly 100 cafeteria workers, SFU students, and faculty members. They joined in solidarity to urge SFU to protect the jobs of 160 cafeteria workers currently in contract with Chartwells, a division of Compass Group Canada.
As The Peak reported previously, Chartwells issued termination notices to 160 cafeteria workers as of April 30. This comes after SFU announced it is currently in the process of deciding on a new contract for food suppliers for SFU food services which includes Mackenzie Café, the Dining Hall, and caterers for SFU.
The final decision on new contracts will be made by SFU’s Board of Governors in their board meeting on March 30. Until then, many cafeteria workers have been left in limbo, unsure of the future of their employment. Bruna*, a cafeteria worker who works in SFU’s Mackenzie Café and has worked at SFU for 29 years, expressed her hopes following the rally on Friday. She told The Peak, “I am hoping that the university is listening, and realize we are serious about our jobs and our union contract.”
She added that SFU has changed food supply companies many times, “but we have never been worried about our jobs. It’s never happened” in previous contract changes.
UNITE HERE Local 40 has been present throughout the uncertainty that workers have been experiencing since SFU announced they would be renegotiating contracts for May 1. Octavian Cadabeschi, a representative for UNITE HERE Local 40, explained that “we were hoping that we would have [a] more concrete sense of whether there was going to be a change in contractors or not by now, but the university continues to push the date back of their announcement.”
The Peak reached out to Martin Pochurko, vice-president finance and administration for SFU, for his input on the rally and concerns received from various cafeteria workers. In an email response he stated, “We understand there are concerns among some of the food services workers at SFU. To start with, SFU is very appreciative of the work the staff of the many dining facilities provides for our students, faculty, staff, and visitors. We believe that the staff are an integral part of our community.”
In regards to the security of SFU’s cafeteria workers and the decision to choose a contractor Pochurko added, “With that in mind, SFU has made the retention of the current hourly food services staff a requirement for the successful proponent, by ensuring that they are offered employment to all existing hourly staff in positions equivalent to their current jobs and at current or better wage and grade rates.
“We know that the people in these roles are vital members of our community and we want to ensure they know how much we value them.”
While SFU has stated that the future contractor will be required to offer equivalent employment to cafeteria workers, Cadabeschi expressed, “We basically continue to send the same message and to press the university to guarantee our members’ contracts and guarantee our members’ jobs, so, so far, the university has basically said that they are requesting the incoming contractor, whoever that is, offers employment to our members. But, in fact, we don’t see that as the same thing as guaranteeing jobs.”
Students are also increasingly concerned over the uncertainty that workers are feeling currently. At the rally, The Peak spoke with Jane* and Monica*, SFU students who have become involved with working with UNITE HERE Local 40 and supporting the cafeteria workers to create awareness among the SFU community on the issues.
Monica explained her satisfaction with the response from the SFU community at the rally: “The past few weeks have mostly been about getting the word out. I am so excited to see so many people out supporting the workers. There’s students, there’s workers, there’s faculty, everyone is coming together to stand up.”
Jane, a member of the Left Alternative student group on campus, added her personal connection to the cause: “This issue is very personal and dear to me. I grew up in a family where my parent also worked very low-wage, precarious food service jobs — actually in worse conditions than these workers here.
“I really know how difficult it is to stand up to your employer when you already rely so much on that employment, so I can just really empathize with these workers,” she added. “You know they have families to feed, they have people to support. They can’t just easily find jobs after this, they rely on these wages and these benefits. I think it’s really important to get the word out there.”
In the same emailed response from Pochurko, he added, “We recognize that some food services workers may be feeling some uncertainty about the possible transition of employers. We understand there may be a rally in the coming days. We are currently trying to do everything in our power to make the transition as smooth and quick as possible. The current contract ends April 30 and the new one begins May 1. We expect an immediate and seamless transition.
“Ultimately, we’re committed to providing a great dining experience for our students, faculty, and staff at our Burnaby campus, and appreciate the continued efforts of the dining services staff to do just that.”
Until then, cafeteria workers will continue to petition students, faculty, and the SFU community to garner great support and raise awareness. Their online petition has already received 400 signatures along with the 1,300 signatures that the hard copy petition had previously received, Jane told The Peak.
*Full names were not published at the request of the interviewees.