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University food workers unionize successfully

By Kate Jacobson, April 6 2016 —

Aramark employees at the University of Calgary voted to unionize their workplace on March 24 and 29. Once certified, the union becomes the sole bargaining agent for the workplace, regardless of which company operates it.

Aramark runs food vendors, operates the residence Dining Centre and provides catering services on campus.

With 90 per cent voting in favour, Aramark employees officially joined the UFCW Local 401 on March 30. Union organizer Joe Irving is happy with the results of the vote.

“The Labour Board conducted several votes across the university that gave the ability for employees to vote,” Irving said. “From that ballot, they tallied the votes and found that the employees were in favour of the union by 90 per cent.”

The union filed their application with the Alberta Labour Relations Board early last month. Turnout for the secret ballot vote was just shy of 84 per cent.

Aramark vice-president corporate communications Karen Cutler said the company has no issues with the unionization of their workplace.

“We respect our employees’ democratic right to choose for themselves on the matter of union representation,” she said.

Under Alberta’s labour code, unions must provide the employer with a notice to bargain within 30 days of certification. This notice begins the collective bargaining process, a series of formal negotiations where the employer and the union agree on wages, benefits and working conditions.

“We haven’t heard anything yet,” Irving said. “Within 30 days, the president of the union and the negotiators for Aramark will have an initial meet and greet and we’ll give notice to bargain.”

The bargaining process must begin 60 days after the notice to bargain is given. Irving said the union’s major concerns are the high cost of health benefits and mandatory deductions from employee paycheques for meals.

Cutler said that Aramark will bargain with the union in good faith. She does not anticipate any problems with the bargaining process.

“We have a positive working relationship with the UFCW,” she said. “We do not anticipate any impact on our ability to serve the U of C campus community.”

Irving said the workers are interested in participating in the negotiating process.

“We’ve had a walk through since we won the vote and everyone seems very excited,” he said. “We’re going to have a fairly large group of people interested in the bargaining committee.”

The UFCW has reached collective bargaining agreements with Aramark in other locations, including the University of British Columbia Okanagan and several Aramark serviced camps in Fort McMurray.

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