Significant staffing cuts have been implemented this year at Trent by the university’s contracted foodservice provider Aramark Canada. According to sources within the company, the number of working hours that have been cut totals approximately 240 per week, a feat largely carried out through the abolishment of positions and the curtailing of shifts.
CUPE Local 3205 representative Shirley Lucas confirmed the staffing cuts in an interview this past week stating that the issue began when Aramark eliminated a number of job postings at the beginning of the academic year. “Since our call back on September 12, 2013,” she said, “at least five or more postings have been cut.”
Ms. Lucas also noted that the reduction in postings has meant that some staff members have been forced out of work, explaining that the union operates on a seniority basis where employees with higher seniority are able to “bump” those lower down.
In the busy College kitchens across Symons Campus, Aramark staff have struggled to cope with the fallout from the reductions. “There has been a ripple effect,” said one employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“The layoffs are starting to happen and they are not seasonal layoffs, [they’re] permanent.”
The employee also made reference to the widespread frustration and low morale within the staff as tasks from abolished positions have been redistributed across the reduced labour force.
“These cuts are definitely affecting quality,” stated another staff member, who also requested not to be named. “They are affecting everything: the cleanliness and the quality. The jobs [that have been cut] are still there, they’re just not on paper.”
Aramark’s staffing reductions have come at a time when foodservice is considered to be an especially hot-button issue within the university community. The company’s controversial 15 year contract with Trent, which has given it a near-monopoly over the provision of foodservice since 1997, is set to expire this spring.
The two parties have spent several months attempting to hammer out an additional one year extension that will give the university time to conduct community consultations and develop a new Request for Proposals (RFP) to be implemented in the spring of 2014.
Yet despite the prominence of the foodservice portfolio and the significance of the negotiations between Aramark and the administration, university administrators are saying that they have not been made aware of the company’s staffing cuts.
Responding via email on January 22, Vice-President Administration Steven Pillar, an administrator who has taken a leading role in the contract extension process, stated that “the University has not yet been advised of any reductions in food service staffing hours.” His comments echoed ones made earlier in the academic year by Trent University President Steven Franklin and Vice-President Student Affairs Nona Robinson who both said that they were unaware of the cuts.
However, CUPE representative Shirley Lucas expressed some surprise upon hearing Mr. Pillar’s response, explaining that she made her concerns known to Trent Housing Services Coordinator Jamie McDonald before the Christmas holidays.
Mr. McDonald acknowledged this in a statement and said that the issue had been brought up at the subsequent meeting of the Food Services Planning Committee (FSPC) on January 10, 2013. He further specified that key members of the administration, including Robinson, were in attendance at that meeting.
According to Vice-President Pillar, the administration will now be looking into the issue in the coming weeks. “The University has initiated contact with Aramark,” he wrote, “and [has] asked them to provide… an update on any staffing actions they have undertaken recently that might affect the level of foodservice on the Trent campus.”
To date, Aramark management have remained silent on the issue and have not responded to requests for interview or comment. Back on the front-lines of Trent’s foodservice, the anonymous Aramark employee noted that the scope of the company’s cuts have now extended beyond the abolishment of positions.
“We are told that we have to close the stations at [X] o’clock,” the employee said, “and that we’re supposed to punch out at that same time, but if we don’t clean up after then we’re in trouble the next day. So, if we close [on schedule], we’re not out of there until 20 minutes after and that is time that we are not covered and don’t get paid for.”
Although the reductions have had a direct and tangible impact on the schedules of the employees, Shirley Lucas stated that the real struggle has been in attempting to maintain a sense of positivity and pride within the workplace.
“I believe we have a very good work force here,” she said, “[and] we like to take pride in our jobs. Our staff wants to do a good job but if they are stretched too thin then they feel as though they are not able to do the job they take pride in.”
Despite these recent cuts, the ongoing RFP planning process has highlighted a real concern within the Trent community for improving foodservice labour conditions. In September, the TCSA released its Raw Deal Document which stressed, among other things, the need for fair treatment for the university’s foodservice employees during the implementation of the RFP.
More recently, the same notion was again raised by several community members at the Food Service Planning Committee’s “Our Food” open forum consultations on January 17. The Committee is holding five more forums this semester, including one on February 14 that will discuss “Food Service Management Structures and Community Involvement.”
But for Aramark employees, who are continuing to grapple with their tough new labour reality, the question is: will the Trent community’s rhetoric lead to any real results? If so, when?
While they wait for the answers to these difficult questions many employees know that they face a decidedly uncertain future.