SFU food workers rally for a living wage

Workers are wearing pins on their uniform during negotiations with contractor

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two food service workers standing next to each other, the person on the right has a red “Living Wage” pin on their uniform
An in-person rally will take place on March 31 as workers negotiate for a fair contract with Chartwells. PHOTO: Krystal Chan / The Peak

By: Karissa Ketter, News Writer

The negotiation period for the new SFU food workers contract with Chartwells has begun since their contract ended on October 30, 2021. SFU food workers are wearing red buttons on their uniforms that read “Living Wage,” as part of a campaign to pressure Chartwells for fair wages and better working conditions. 

SFU uses third-party company, Chartwells, to hire their food workers rather than hiring them directly in-house. Despite calls from the community to move the hiring in-house, and precedents set by UBC and the University of Victoria, their contract with Chartwells continues.

As Chartwells and workers at SFU are renewing their contract, the workers are campaigning for fair wages, safer working conditions, and access to the same benefits and amenities as other SFU employees. This includes access to on-campus childcare and university facilities such as the library.

The Peak spoke with UNITE HERE Local 40 communications organizer Stephanie Fung to discuss the campaign. UNITE HERE Local 40 is a hotel and hospitality workers union in BC that represents the food workers at SFU. The union has hosted a series of international rallies for service workers at Vancouver Pan Pacific hotel and other Westmont-owned businesses. 

According to Fung, the negotiations were halted when Chartwells failed to show up to their meeting a few weeks ago. “Workers were really angry. They really wanted to get back to the bargaining table to discuss the contract details, but when that failed to happen, they decided to escalate and take action.”

Fung said the reason for the campaign is to “call out Chartwells and pressure them to meet them back at the table.” 

Fung reported the pressure from wearing the buttons was successful. Chartwells and food service workers met the week of March 10, with Chartwells bringing forth a proposal for a new contract. However, Fung said, “What the management was [offering] them was far below what workers were demanding.” They expect to be back at the bargaining table soon to respond to the proposal. 

“Workers are extremely agitated, they’re feeling angry,” said Fung. “They’ll do whatever it takes to make sure that we keep the pressure up and keep fighting.”

The press release noted workers are making between $17 and $19 an hour. They have not received a raise in over three years. SFU food worker Gursharan Gill noted in the press release, “With the rise of inflation in the past decade, my wage isn’t enough to keep up with the cost of living in Burnaby. It’s extremely offensive how SFU is treating us as second-class citizens when other university employees are earning what they deserve.”

The current living wage for families in Metro Vancouver is $20.52 an hour. 

Fung noted despite the average rate of $18 an hour, seasonal shifts dramatically affect workers’ income. “I think that number would look very [different] if you knew what the annual income these workers make. Most of the food service workers don’t work during the summers when it’s less busy. So annual income is just really, really low.”

The Contract Worker Justice (CWJ)  group at SFU is another community body campaigning for the rights of food and cleaning service workers at SFU. These campaigns are not connected. CWJ is demanding a stop to private contractors for SFU’s food and cleaning workers, while UNITE HERE Local 40 is negotiating for a fair contract with Chartwells in the meantime.

Fung noted they are having a rally on March 31, 2022 at Convocation Mall for their campaign. “This rally is the largest of multiple planned actions we’ll be taking,” said Fung. 

To stay updated on the campaign or for more information on the rally, visit their Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, @unitehere40.