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Opinion: Burnaby SFU outsourcing food and cleaning a 'bad situation' for workers

Campaign launched to get SFU to change its policies

Like most places of higher learning these days, Simon Fraser University aspires to a strong culture of community.

It has dedicated itself to promoting cultural diversity; it has engaged with the arts sectors of all three cities where it has campuses; it has undertaken strong Indigenous outreach initiatives. The list of achievements goes on — until, that is, one gets to the university’s cleaning and food service workers.

For years now, the university has been outsourcing food and cleaning services to private contractors, with harsh results for the people who work in those areas: low wages, scant benefits, and little in the way of job security. The food service workers are employed by Compass-Chartwells and represented by Unite Here! Local 40, while the cleaning staff is employed by BEST Service Pros and represented by CUPE Local 3338. The two unions have fought hard to make the most of a bad situation for these workers, but they’re both in agreement on the best possible way forward: a campaign to bring cleaning and food services back in-house. 

That’s where my organization comes in: Contract Worker Justice @SFU is campaigning to have the university end its outsourcing and bring these workers into the fold, where they can receive fair wages; decent benefits; and access to the resources that students, faculty, clerical workers and other members of the community enjoy. 

To put our goals into perspective, let’s compare SFU with UBC and the University of Victoria, both of which employ food and cleaning staff directly. Our group has looked at the various collective agreements, and they paint a clear picture of inequity. 

Let’s take wages first. At SFU, the lowest paid BEST Service Pros employee makes $13.12/hr, and the highest makes $17.93/hr; Compass-Chartwells employees make $14.93/hr at minimum and $20.32 in the top position. Meanwhile, UBC’s compensation in the same areas ranges from $17.96/hr to $29.53/hr, and UVic’s ranges from $21.13/hr to $29.87/hr. 

The unfairness persists in other areas, as well. At SFU, cleaning staff get four days of sick leave a year, and food service workers get five; UBC and UVic, by contrast, offer 15. In the realm of benefits such as dental coverage, maternal/paternal leave, parking-rate reductions, pensions, access to childcare facilities, and processes for the refusal of unsafe work, UBC and UVic are also well ahead of SFU. 

There’s also the issue of job security to consider. Companies like BEST Service Pros and Compass-Chartwells bid for their contracts — a situation which has had grim consequences in the past. In 2017, the contract for food services passed from Compass-Chartwells to Sodexo for a two-year period; during this change in contractor, it took organized protests to prevent all food services staff from being terminated. 

I’ll close with a solemn statement from the University itself: “SFU is committed to creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive community where all feel welcome, safe, accepted and appreciated in learning, teaching, research and work.” All we’re asking is that this proclamation be honoured.

Mike Archibald is a member of Contract Worker Justice @SFU.


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