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Aramark, food workers’ union reach tentative agreement in labour dispute

By Jason Herring, September 12 2017 —

After more than a year of negotiations, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 401 will vote on a new union contract between Aramark and the union on Sept. 23. The new contract includes provisions like employer-funded benefits and wage increases.

Aramark is an American food-service company contracted by the University of Calgary to provide catering services to the school, operate the Dining Centre and run food vendors, such as Tim Hortons and Brew & Blendz. Employees at these locations successfully unionized with the UFCW in April 2016. The union has been negotiating for a collective agreement since then.

The tentative contract was negotiated with the help of a mediator. The UFCW recommends the contract, saying that it is likely the best settlement that can be achieved without going on strike.

“It’s what we call a recommended settlement,” said UFCW spokesperson Tom Hesse. “What that means is that I asked the bargaining committee, ‘Do you think this is what can reasonably be achieved, without militant action like going on strike?’ Their answer to that was, ‘Yes.’ ”

Aramark employees at the U of C will vote on ratifying the union contract on Sept. 23. If the contract receives a majority of votes in favour, it will be ratified come into effect immediately.  The wage increases, however, would take effect over the term of the agreement. Otherwise, Hesse expects the employees to call a strike. 

“[If the contract is not ratified,] we’d immediately be taking steps to take a strike vote. That would take place a few weeks after a rejection,” Hesse said. “There’s still a chance that there will be a dispute at the U of C. Ultimately, it is the employees’ choice.”

A major part of the tentative contract is an expanded benefit plan that would be fully funded by Aramark.

“Before, employees had to split the cost [of the benefit plan],” Hesse said. “It was about $50 a paycheque. And these people aren’t making a lot of money in the service industry. So they wanted a 100 per cent employer-paid benefit plan and we achieved that. As well, there’s other as improvements, like an optical plan, which they never had before.”

Additionally, the contract would allow students and supervisors to join the workers’ union, give employees wage increases as high as $3.30 and allow the ability to use sick days for dependents, among other things. The agreement would be in effect for two years.

Aramark declined to comment on specifics of the negotiation or contract.

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