Workers Losing Out as University Brings Food Service Contract In-house
TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - June 9, 2016) - Cafeteria workers began a hunger strike today during Convocation at the University of Toronto to protest the terms of their new contract at the school.
The new contract will strip more than 200 workers of their seniority and put them back on probation. That includes more than 30 people who have worked at U of T for at least 10 years. U of T admitted in the past that it plans to use the probationary period to fire 15% of the people who feed its students.
Maria Goretti Frias (29 years at U of T) and Geneve Blackwood (15) will stop eating solid food for six days starting June 9th to protest the changes. They will be joined on the hunger strike by U of T graduates, community allies, and a cafeteria worker from York University who is also a member of Local 75.
In addition to their presence at Convocation, the hunger strikers plan on visiting neighbourhoods in Rexdale and Scarborough, where many low-wage immigrant working families live. Over the course of the week, the strikers will be visited by community allies, religious leaders and supporters from the university campus. Among other things, the strikers are asking supporters to sign post cards to Premier Kathleen Wynne and Labour Minister Kevin Flynn calling on the provincial government to close the loop-hole in Ontario labour law that has allowed the university to strip the workers of their job security as contract employees. The Ontario government is in the process of reviewing the Labour Relations Act and the Employment Standards Act.
The hunger strikers and their colleagues have been called in for what they describe as "surreal" interviews because of the new contract. They have to reapply for their positions. Some of them have worked at U of T their entire careers, but they've been asked for resumes detailing their job experience.
"He was pretending he did not know us," Frias said of her interviewer. "You feel like you're nobody, like you don't exist all this time."
"I have to apply as if I was applying for a new job," said Frias, who has a grade 9 education and started out as a pot washer in 1987. She's now a cook at U of T's Medical Sciences Building, where she's worked for almost three decades. "We deserve respect. Not putting us on probation, not taking our seniority."
Blackwood, 48, could lose up to 20 hours per week if loses her seniority, which keeps her working in slow times like the summer. That would shunt her back into the job market after fifteen years at U of T.
"You'd feel like a newcomer to the country after working one job for so long," Blackwood said. "I don't know how to start over."
"This is my sole means of survival. I pay my bills through this job. I support my children," she said. "It means everything to me."
Local 75 of Unite Here represents more than 200 food service workers at the University of Toronto, and more than 8,000 hospitality workers in the Greater Toronto Area.