With a potential strike or lockout deadline of Jan. 31 looming, Trent University food services workers and supporters called on employers to end precarious work as they held a lunchtime rally Monday at the main entrance to the campus.
Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) workers and members of other labour and student groups braved freezing rain as they gathered on West Bank Drive near Nassau Mills Road to demand good-quality, full-time jobs from Compass Group Canada
“We’re proud of the work we do. We’re here today because we care about our work,” CUPE Local 3205 president Colleen Carter told those gathered.
A 26-year veteran of food services at the university herself, she pointed out that many of her colleagues are also long-tenured – some have worked there for 40 years. They continue to struggle to get by in jobs that are part-time and insecure, Carter said.
According to CUPE, Compass Group’s Chartwells division – which took over the food service contract at Trent in 2014 – has cut the number of full-time jobs to the point that over half of food service workers at Trent now work part-time.
CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn said the fight against precarious work – defined as non-standard employment that is poorly paid, insecure, unprotected and can’t support a household – has been “raging” across the province for years.
Now, he said it has come to the university, where some food service workers are given as few as five hours a week. Working too few hours means workers can’t get employee benefits or qualify for employment insurance.
“These aren’t jobs that are sustainable,” he said.
Hahn, who told the workers they deserve fairness and respect, pledged the support of CUPE members from across the province. “All of us across Ontario are standing with you.”
Workers and supporters, clutching placards and flags, were encouraged to be loud, in hopes that their colleagues in nearby buildings could hear them. “What do we want? Fairness. When do we want it? Now,” they repeated.
Compass Group director of corporate communications Stephanie Baxter, however, told The Examiner that Chartwells’ current offer includes wage increases and income continuance.
The majority of their employees are entitled to health benefits for themselves and their families, she wrote in a Friday statement.
Baxter also pointed out in her statement that Chartwells does not have food service exclusivity at the university.