It’s a scary time for the food services workers at Simon Fraser University.
The workers — which include the staff at Mackenzie Cafe, the Dining Hall, and the caterers for SFU events among other roles — held two protests at Simon Fraser University on January 27. In total, there are 160 food service workers employed at SFU.
For many, it feels as though they are in a fight for their jobs.
SFU’s contract with their current food supplier (Chartwells — a division of Compass Group Canada) is coming to an end, and they are tendering bids from any interested companies to secure the next contract for SFU’s food supply. The uncertainty of who will be the next supplier has the food service workers scared for their jobs.
Michael Clarke, a union leader within the SFU community as well as a Compass employee, elaborated on just how much of a necessity the SFU food services are to campus life.
“We deal with everyone on a daily basis from their morning coffee to your meetings with faculty. We do lunches, we do dinners, we do residence, we even do dinners at [president Andrew Petter]’s own residence for him, so we do a majority of what people tend to not think of on a daily basis.”
Now, they just want to know that they’ll be rewarded for their years of hard work.
“We all want the same thing,” said Bruna Padularosa, who was at the protests. “We want to still have a job. We’re worried if another company comes, they could decide to hire other people; there could be no benefits. We don’t know.”
Padularosa, who currently works at the deli in Mackenzie Cafe, has been with the school for almost three decades. The fear of not having a job is real, and she said that the benefits she collects from the job mean everything to her. She’s very concerned about the prospect of being unemployed soon.
“That is the worst thing that could happen. We all need a job, we’re relying on these jobs,” she said.
The food service workers have teamed up with UNITE HERE Local 40 and have begun circulating a petition for students to sign in support of them, which has garnered over 1,300 signatures so far. Those signatures were brought to president Andrew Petter during the protests.
One of the reasons for the multiple protests was because the food service workers don’t want to abandon their work shifts, and so they went in two waves based on who was available. They first group met with Petter, but the second group was rebuffed. For Clarke, he feels as though the case to guarantee job safety is obvious.
“We have never failed in our task to provide those services, whether it was with Compass group, or the group before that, or the group that will come after that,” he said.
However, according to vice-president of finance and administration for SFU, Martin Pochurko, he doesn’t envision this as being the worst-case scenario it could become.
“I think in times of change, there is fear, but I think if we look back at this two or three months down the road, it’ll have worked out for everybody,” he said.
He explained that SFU is just following procedure for a contract of this nature, and is required to present options to their board as the old contract has come to an end. The current deal with Compass was set to expire five years ago, but both sides took the option of extending to the contract, and it has now fully run all possible courses.
In reading an email sent from Mary Aylesworth, director of Procurement Services at SFU, after the protests, Pochurko explained that SFU views the employees as vital members of the SFU community, and they recognize how integral they are to the success of the school. Furthermore, the university will require that “the awarded Contractor [offer] employment to all existing dining services hourly staff in positions equivalent to their current jobs and at current or better wages and grade rates.”
While it doesn’t mention anything about the benefits that are so important to the food services workers, SFU doesn’t appear to want to damage the relationship it has with those employees.
However, had SFU completely mediated these issues, perhaps the protests wouldn’t have occurred at all.