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After rocky start, bargaining relationship improves between Aramark and workers’ union

By Scott Strasser, November 25 2016 —


As negotiations over a collective agreement continue between Aramark and the workers’ union that represents its employees at the University of Calgary, union representatives say things look “cautiously optimistic.”

Aramark is the U of C’s official food service provider, a position they took over from Chartwells in March 2015. They operate the residence Dining Centre, provide catering services and run various food vendors on campus. They have a five-year contract with the university.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 (UFCW) is the official bargaining agent for Aramark workers at the U of C. The UFCW and Aramark have been meeting to negotiate a collective agreement since April 2016, with the latest bargaining sessions between the two parties taking place at Hotel Alma from Nov. 3–4.

UFCW chief advisor and spokesperson Tom Hesse said the tone of bargaining has recently improved after a rocky start to negotiations.

“There were some substantive improvements that the employer offered,” Hesse said. “Importantly and critically for us, the employer was originally seeking to exclude students from representation rights. They’ve retreated from that position on these latest bargaining dates.”

While neither side could previously agree on terms for the collective agreement, Hesse said the relationship between the two parties has since improved — though he said things could “still go sideways” through a strike vote, if necessary.

“I have more optimism than in our last set of meetings,” he said. “There’s no doubt the employees themselves have sent Aramark a message. The employees openly talk about striking if they have to. That’s heard by managers and they would pass that message up to their superiors.”

Aramark employees at the U of C unionized last spring, joining the UFCW. Eighty-four per cent of Aramark workers at the U of C voted in the secret-ballot vote, with 90 per cent of voters in favour of unionization.

“This was not a marginal vote. It tells you there’s something wrong in the workplace. This is not something employees do everyday,” Hesse said.

According to Hesse, Aramark initially wanted to exclude student workers and supervisors from representational rights. While the tone of bargaining has improved, Hesse said much work still needs to be done.

“We’re also looking for a clause where the employer is required to treat employees with dignity and respect and to put that into writing and make that a forcible clause,” Hesse said. “Also, we’re going to be looking at some provisions in the collective agreement that require Aramark to act ethically in the broader sense.”

The UFCW also wants Aramark to prepare a comprehensive contract offer of settlement for its employees at the U of C, meaning Aramark would propose an overall collective agreement that includes monetary and non-monetary agreements.

“We’ve asked for that and they’ve said they will do that,” Hesse said.

Aramark vice-president of communications Karen Cutler said the company does not publicly discuss the specifics of their negotiations, but provided an emailed statement.

“We respect the integrity of the collective bargaining process and consider negotiations private,” the statement reads. “Negotiations are continuing and we are working towards a new agreement.”

The next round of negotiations will take place in early January 2017.


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