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University’s food workers push for unionization

By Kate Jacobson, March 15 2016 —

Aramark employees at the University of Calgary are applying to unionize with the UFCW Local 401. Aramark runs food vendors, operates the residence Dining Centre and provides catering services on campus.

The union filed their application with the Alberta Labour Relations Board on March 4. Union organizer Joe Irving is confident they will meet the government’s requirements.

“The government requires that we have 40 per cent, at least, of the workplace sign union petitions or union cards to show their interest that they want us to be their bargaining agent,” he said. “We believe that we have well above the 40 per cent.”

After the application is filed with the Alberta Labour Relations Board, the government will request a list of employees from Aramark. They reference the petitions with the list provided by the employer in order to confirm that the union received 40 per cent support.

Aramark vice-president corporate communications Karen Cutler said the company is generally supportive of their employees’ right to unionize.

“We have a great deal of respect for our employees,” she said. “While we prefer that our employees deal directly with us on issues concerning their employment, we fully support their democratic right to understand all of the issues and choose for themselves on the matter of union representation.”

If there are no issues with the list, the Labour Relations Board will issue a secret ballot government vote. If 50 per cent of the employees support unionization, the workplace becomes unionized, regardless of the company operating it.

“If a new employer came into this workplace, you wouldn’t have to go through this process again,” Irving said. “The certificate would be for this workplace so any provider that comes in, the place would still be unionized.”

Chartwells, the previous campus food provider, voluntarily recognized a union among its employees. But as the workplace had no official certification with the province, it was no longer unionized after Aramark took over the university’s food services. Irving hopes the official certification will help workers.

“The employees contacted us early in this year to say that they wanted to be represented again by a union,” Irving said. “Chartwells’ collective agreement had really good benefits and wage scales. They don’t have that anymore.”

Aramark employees work at the Dining Centre, Zoca, Bento,  Bistro Alma, the Foothills campus Starbucks, Tim Hortons and Made For You. The company also has a catering operation on campus.

The UFCW has a bargaining relationship with Aramark in other locations. There are several Aramark serviced camps in Fort McMurray. They are also the food service provider at the University of British Columbia Okanagan, which is unionized with the UFCW. The company claims they have a good relationship with their unionized workplaces.

“We also have positive working relationships with many unions across the country, including the UFCW,” Cutler said.

The UFCW says they have not seen any unfair labour practices from Aramark at this point in the unionization process.

“Aramark was aware of this process early in the campaign,” Irving said. “We haven’t received any backlash from the employer. Typically, we will.”

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