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Burnaby food service worker wants 'living wage' after 23 years of working at SFU

Food service workers don 'living wage' buttons amid collective bargaining with university's contractor, Chartwells.
SFU food workers
Food service workers at SFU are donning red 'living wage' buttons amid collective bargaining with the university's food service contractor, Chartwells.

Burnaby resident Gursharan Gill has been working at SFU for 23 years and makes $18.38 per hour.

She says that’s not enough to stay in the city and support her family, so she is joining 160 other SFU food service workers and wearing a red “living wage” button in an effort to urge the university’s food service contractor, Chartwells, to pay them a fair wage.

The workers contract expired on October 30, 2021.

Contract negotiations were interrupted last week when the company “failed to appear,” according to a news release sent out by Unite Here Local 40, the hospitality workers union that represents the SFU food service employees.

The union says the workers face spiking inflation costs and pandemic-related challenges, such as reduced work hours and safety concerns, and are fighting for better, “family-supporting” wages, safer workloads and the same benefits and amenities direct SFU employees get, including better access to on-campus childcare, parking and access to university facilities, like the library.

“With the rise of inflation in the past decade, my wage isn’t enough to keep up with the cost of living in Burnaby,” Gill said in the news release. “It’s extremely offensive how SFU is treating us as second-class citizens when other university employees are earning what they deserve. We work just as hard. All we want is to be properly valued for the hard work we do serving the community.”

Nouha Ishaq, another food service worker at the university, expressed similar sentiments in the release.

“I’ve served the SFU community for 17 years and I want some acknowledgement from the company for my years of service,” she said. “I’m making $17.50 an hour and the minimum wage has gone up. It’s preposterous. I cannot afford to live in Vancouver with what I’m making currently. We need a living wage now.”

By contracting out food services on its campuses, SFU treats workers in that sector differently than other employees at the university, according to Unite Here Local 40 communications organizer Stephanie Fung.

“SFU and Chartwells, they’re working together, and they all have a responsibility to treat workers with respect,” she told the NOW.

“The university should recognize that food services workers should be given equal standing as other employees and make sure that they get fair wages, that they’re supported through the pandemic with safer workloads and receive the same benefits and amenities as other employees at the campus.”

While the button campaign is directed at Chartwells, Fung said Unite Here Local 40 is also part of the Contract Worker Justice campaign aimed at ending the outsourcing of food and cleaning services at SFU.

“We are part of that coalition, and that group has reached out to SFU and has been talking with them,” Fung said. “At the end of the day, it’s all about having a living wage.”

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor
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