Contract Worker Justice campaign seeks progress after meeting with SFU president

Joy Johnson agreed to consider the campaign during the Fall 20201 semester, after initial hesitance

0
492
PHOTO: Gudrun Wai-Gunnarsson / The Peak

Written by: Karissa Ketter, News Writer

SFU currently hires their food and cleaning service workers through the third-party company Chartwells Canada. It has been a month since the Contract Worker Justice campaign sent an open letter to president Joy Johnson and vice-president finance Martin Pochurko asking them to end the contract and rehire workers directly. Representatives sat down with the administration in a meeting to discuss the campaign’s goals. 

In an interview with campaign co-founder John Calvert said initially ending the contract and “bringing the work back was not something that [Johnson] could see doing in the immediate term.”

In a subsequent interview, Calvert told The Peak he had received a letter from Johnson following their meeting. “The tone of the letter that we received was a bit different from the tone of the meeting.” 

Johnson’s letter suggested “that [SFU] begin work on a case for change in the Fall of 2021, when we have more information about the university’s financial outlook.”

Calvert found that although Johnson is “not committing she will actually bring back the work [ . . . ] it’s more positive than we had originally assumed from the meeting.”

The letter from Johnson stated that, in the fall, SFU will look to “document costs, benefits, potential savings [and] required support structures.”

“Justice may cost a little bit of money, but at the end of the day we want justice,” said Calvert.

When he described his initial meeting with Johnson and Pochurko, Calvert said they declined to consider the initiative at the time. He felt a contradiction between Johnson’s claims to support equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) and reluctance to hire food and cleaning service workers directly. Especially “given the nature of the workforce we are talking about,” he said.

“If the university is really serious about the EDI that it’s been promoting, then this is an important element of that because we’re looking at two groups of employees that are primarily women, racialized, low-paid, and arguably very vulnerable,” said Calvert. 

Despite this observation, “there is no data regarding the diversity of these workers, since they are not direct employees of the university” as previously reported by The Peak.

Unlike other staff at SFU, contracted workers don’t receive a living wage, extended health benefits, or an appropriate health and dental care plan, according to the campaign’s open letter. The letter also claimed they have insufficient vacation time and no access to SFU facilities. Further, the campaign said the nature of contracted work means workers have little job security each time the contract is re-tendered. 

“As long as the injustice is there, we have a reason to continue fighting,” said Calvert.

In an email statement to The Peak, Pochurko said, “We appreciate and understand the desire to improve working conditions and economic inequities for workers in the SFU community.

“Replacing services or changing a service model needs to be considered with care and attention, inclusive of the unions representing these workers and must balance concern for tuition increases and the university’s multi-year recovery from the pandemic,” said Pochurko. 

“From the viewpoint of those in the campaign, this is an encouraging step,” said Calvert.

Calvert reported that the campaign has seen support through over 800 signatures on their open letter — many of which are from faculty members. 

They continue to pursue their objective, and recently met with the mayor of Burnaby, Mike Hurley, who “indicated that he is highly sympathetic to what we were trying to achieve and also pointed out that he has been doing the same thing in Burnaby — bringing back in-house some of the contracted work.”

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.