Food service workers at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) campus voted overwhelmingly in favor of job action on April 18. Unifor Local 414, the union that represents them, is currently negotiating with Compass Group, the organization that handles food services at UTM.

Chartwells is the food service provider for all food service locations at UTM, excluding the UTMSU’s Blind Duck in the Student Centre. Chartwells provides food, catering, and conference services for all students, faculty, and staff at UTM.

Chartwells is a division of Compass Group Canada, a national organization that provides food and support services to sectors in education, health care, business, and entertainment, among others.

Compass food service workers at UTM are represented by Unifor Local 414, a branch of Unifor—Canada’s largest private sector union with over 315,000 members across the country.

During the last union meeting on April 18, the majority of Compass Group workers voted in favor of job action, citing dissatisfaction with their current wages, working conditions, and the collective agreement between Compass and Unifor.

Local 414 represents approximately 150 Compass food service workers at UTM.

“The Local 414 members who work at UTM for Compass are hardworking and dedicated, and they deserve to be paid appropriately for the work they do,” National Representative of Unifor Liz Marzari told The Medium.

“At this time, the majority of those members are paid just $14 [per] hour,” continued Marzari. “Wages and working conditions have been a priority during this round of negotiations.”

The strike mandate states that if the next round of negotiations fall through, Unifor can take future job action, including a strike or lockout.

No job action can legally proceed until 17 days after the conciliation officer—a neutral third party who attempts to reconcile the parties involved into a mutually agreed upon collective agreement—issues a “no board report,” a government notice stating that the parties involved are unable to settle a collective bargaining dispute. 

In response to the Compass workers’ overwhelming vote in favor of job action, UTM Hospitality & Retail Services Director Vicky Jezierski said the university could not comment on the ongoing negotiations.

“We can’t really ask about the strike plan if no one tells us that there is a strike possibility and we haven’t been told,” said Jezierski. “I’ve heard from senior management from Chartwells that they are in active negotiations with their union and nothing since.”

Jezierski states she is aware that the contract between Compass and Unifor has expired and they are currently under collective bargaining, but as a third-party, UTM has no knowledge or involvement in the negotiations.

“It’s a third-party company. They have their own contract. They have their own union representation and their employees have their representatives just like anyone in the university,” said Jezierski.

“In terms of Chartwells negotiations,” continued Jezierski, “most negotiations for any kind of union or collective agreements are always confidential so we wouldn’t be able to know until the contract is public and signed. Until then, we probably know less than the employees. At least the employees would have feedback from their unions where we don’t have anything about that.”

In August 2014, on the tails of Compass’ food service contract with UTM, the university consulted with Kaizen Foodservice Planning & Design to analyze the feasibility of a self-operation in which UTM would operate its own food services on campus like the St. George campus.

The case study on the feasibility of a self-operation or a continued contract management of UTM food service ended with a recommendation that a contract management approach be maintained.

“The consultants that came back to us said we shouldn’t be going self-op because we don’t have enough volume and we wouldn’t be able to sustain the program that way,” said Jezierski.

The current five-year contract between UTM and Compass expires on May 31, 2020. The university can also extend the contract for three additional one-year terms.

“We were hoping not to extend the contract and just finish it at year five and then go for public tender,” said Jezierski. “Because we had a huge delay with the construction and we need full assessment of the business to go to the market, we are reviewing all our options right now.”

The procurement process for a food service provider is required for any contract over $100 thousand dollars and would be open to any food service providers who would like to participate.

After the procurement process in 2014 following the expired contract between UTM and Compass, Compass was re-elected as the food service provider for UTM.

“[Unifor Local 414] will continue to bargain in good faith with the employer [Compass Group] to try and reach a collective agreement,” said Marzari. “In the event that we are unable to reach an agreement, a decision will be made on what action to take up […] including [a] strike.”

Negotiations between Compass and Unifor will continue on November 13, 2019. Strategies surrounding job action will be decided in the upcoming weeks.

This story is developing. More to come.

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