Food Service Workers Rally Against Precarity

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Food service workers and sympathizers rally at Trent University Symons campus on January 21, 2018. Photo by Josh Skinner.

On January 21, a rally took place in support of Food Service Workers who are currently in the midst of a labour dispute with Chartwells — a subsidiary of Compass — the multinational corporation Trent has outsourced Food Services to at Symons Campus.

Monday’s weather was abysmal but the rally’s energy was electrifying as many gathered together, enthusiastically calling for fairness. Food Services employees who were not scheduled to work over the lunch hour were joined by representatives from their union Canadian Union of Public Employees, students, faculty, and other community members. There were various speakers who braved the cold and freezing rain to provide the crowd with messages of support and solidarity.

Among them was Trent Central Student Association president Brandon Remmelgas, who spoke to the significance of job security for food service workers at Trent: “Having food service workers who feel safe and secure in their jobs only makes them better at doing their jobs and more passionate about doing their jobs, which only has a positive benefit for students.”

One such student, Meg Nicholson-McCrae fondly recalled the impact food service workers had on her first-year experience: “In the OC caf, there were a few women who I always had personal interactions with. They were always kind and friendly; I really looked forward to seeing them in the mornings.”

It’s clear that the food service workers are integral members of the Trent community. They provide everything from that first coffee in the morning to those late-night snacks that fuel student learning — especially for first year students who may need a friendly face during the tumultuous transition to university.

Also present at the rally was CUPE Ontario Vice-President, Fred Hahn, who gave a particularly powerful speech commending Food Service workers for their resilience: “This may be a big multinational corporation but I am so proud to be in a union with workers who will stand up and look this corporation in the eye and say ‘We deserve better.’”

Food service workers and sympathizers rally at Trent University Symons campus on January 21, 2018. Photo by Josh Skinner.

A representative from the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1320 spoke at the rally, sharing with the crowd that transit workers will not cross picket lines in the event of a strike. This means that if Chartwells and CUPE do not come to an agreement by February 3, Trent University will have to add transit to its list of issues to ameliorate through contingency planning.

This begs the question: where does the University stand in all this? Clearly, it is somewhat responsible for the precarious employment to which Chartwells has subjected its workers. After all, Trent signed the contract with Chartwells in 2014, the repercussions of which have been the rise of precarious employment for Food Service workers Trent. However, the university seems to be striving to maintain innocence in the dispute releasing a statement on myTrent reading: “… the University maintains an arms-length relationship with its suppliers… We appreciate the support of the campus community in respecting this process and allowing the parties to reach an agreement independently.” This may suggest that the University does not want students or other members of the Trent community to become involved in supporting the Food Service workers, but it is imperative that students show gratitude and support for the employees who have been steadfast in their positive contributions to our student experience.

Since the rally, CUPE and Chartwells have resumed negotiations, resulting in a contract offer from the employer that was struck down by employees by a margin of 96 percent. In a press release, CUPE representative Stephanie Malinsky addressed the university’s lack of involvement in the process: “We’re urging Compass to return to the bargaining table before the February 3 deadline, even though the company has so far refused to meet us in mediation. But we’re also calling on Trent’s administration to take a role, because it is also up to the University’s leaders to ensure that there is no interruption to services on the Peterborough campus.”