If you have ever bought food at York University, you likely didn’t spare much thought for the person serving you. We tend not to think much of the people serving us but they think a lot about us. At York, they even think of their customers as their kids, making sure that they serve good food and provide a good service. Customer service isn’t easy, with many hours on your feet to serve an often fickle public -it’s a job that can be made even worse with bad management. The situation at York illustrates this perfectly.
Food service workers at the university are not directly employed by York and are not covered by any existing labour agreements with York employees. Instead, York has contracted out the operation of most cafes and restaurants on campus to Aramark, a company notorious for not paying employees for the hours they’ve worked and for firing food service employees for speaking out about unsanitary working conditions. It’s hardly surprising that many of these workers privately admit that they would never eat at an Aramark operated shop because of the number of health code violations they’ve seen on the job.
The circumstances at York are hardly different, but at least they are members of a union. In addition to the health code violations, many employees who’ve worked there for over ten years are still not considered full time and are not even eligible for benefits. Unite Here, the union covering the workers, has also documented instances of Aramark managers using racist names for their employees, many of whom come from Caribbean countries. In at least one instance, a manager kicked an employee hard enough to leave a bruise on her shin. This employee was later suspended for being too loud – the fact that she is part of the union bargaining committee makes this management decision highly suspicious.
The situation has deteriorated to the point that a strike vote taken in December passed unanimously – there were no members who voted against the measure. Real Food Real Jobs, a campus organization of students, faculty, and community members who work to aid the workers, has held information sessions so everyone on campus knows what’s at stake and what to expect.
Not all shops on campus are operated by Aramark; sympathizers can visit the Real Food Real Jobs website or Facebook page to see which shops to avoid during the strike. Winter is a difficult time for a strike so let’s all show our support.