Contract Worker Justice campaign urges SFU to employ food and service workers directly

Their demands include fair wages, health benefits, and access to university services

PHOTO: Gudrun Wai-Gunnarsson / The Peak

Written by: Karissa Ketter, News Writer 

SFU students, staff, and worker unions released an open letter to end outsourcing of contract workers. It addressed president Joy Johnson and vice-president finance Martin Porchuko. 

In an interview with The Peak, SFU professor and co-founder of the Contract Worker Justice campaign John Calvert said, “COVID-19 has highlighted the vulnerability of these workers.” 

He said while UBC and the University of Victoria have made accommodations for their workers throughout the pandemic to prevent mass layoffs, SFU’s service workers faced layoffs due to the contracts SFU holds with Compass-Chartwells. SFU currently hires all cleaning and food service workers through third party company Compass-Chartwells.

SFU PhD student Jade Ho told The Peak that, in addition to the open letter, the campaign used social media to “highlight some of the things that the workers don’t have, or have very limited access to — so for example they have no access to childcare, limited maternity leave, they don’t have a living wage, or extended health benefits.”

The open letter notes that workers have a lack of vacation time, limited dental and health plans, lack of access to SFU’s facilities, and limited life insurance — unlike other SFU staff. 

The campaign asks SFU to end their contract with Compass-Chartwells but to rehire the workers. 

“We are particularly concerned [for] the university [to] respect the fact that these workers have given service over the years — they should not be [rehiring workers] in a manner that would create additional insecurity for these folks. There should be a clear commitment that the university will employ the current staff,” Calvert said.

The campaign says because SFU accepts the lowest bid from third party companies, there is no guarantee SFU will rehire the same workers at the end of the contract. They cite hiring workers in-house would increase job security

Ho explained Compass-Chartwells makes a profit off the SFU contract. If the “workers can be in-house workers, then all of that profit generated can go back to their wage or give them better benefits.

“It’s really important that people get to know these workers, who they are, and what their working conditions are like,” said Ho. 

“They’re just as much part of the community as we are — SFU could not function without these workers.

“There has been a push especially on the part of [Johnson] to make SFU more of an inclusive university — a university that respects diversity,” said Calvert. 

“The exclusion of these particular workers is not consistent with the overall direction that the president is trying to push the university towards. There are some basic issues around justice and fairness that the university should be addressing.” 

He clarified the campaign does not aim to “[point] fingers at the current president — she inherited the current arrangement. She now has the opportunity to take a fresh look at these issues.”

Calvert said he observes workers to be primarily women of colour and immigrants. However, there is no data regarding the diversity of these workers, since they are not direct employees of the university. 

“If we’re going to talk about the university being inclusive, then we need to look at everybody who’s contributing to the education programs that we all participate in,” said Calvert. 

Ho confirmed since the letter was sent out on March 17, they had not received a response from administration. The letter was sent with 80 signatures from faculty. Since then there has been an additional 245 signatures from faculty, students, and staff.

Calvert hopes the delay in response means SFU is “seriously looking at the issue.” 

Ho is hopeful they “can push the president to come and have a chat with [them].” Until that is possible, she encourages students and staff to get in touch with the campaign to be involved.

The Peak reached out to Johnson, but she did not respond by the publication deadline. 

SFU staff and students can respond to the campaign’s google form to get in touch or email them at contractworkerjustice@gmail.com. They are active on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.