Negotiations have “broken down,” says VP of local union
Aramark staff at St. Thomas University might be waving their picket signs soon.
The union members have been negotiating their contracts with Aramark, their employer, since July 2009 and still haven’t come to an agreement.
According to Jamie Pilling, the vice-president of the Canadian Union for Public Employees (CUPE) of local 3372, progress has been slow. The two parties got policy issues off the table early and have been focusing on monetary issues like wages and pensions.
“The gap has closed, but there is still a divide between us.”
Pilling says “things kind of broke down” about five months ago.
The union had to hire a conciliation officer who acts as a lawyer for union members. His job is to help find the middle ground between the two parties’ proposals.
But Pilling still feels like they’re in limbo.
“I hope it’s more…stable rattling than anything,” he said. “And I hope that when the time comes we can hit something here…before it ever gets to that point [of a strike].
“Because quite honestly, we don’t want to be out there.”
In the 17 years Pilling has been with Aramark – and the 21 years Aramark has been at STU – the cafeteria staff has never gone on strike or been locked out by their employers.
Pilling remembers when the STU professors went on strike three years ago. He says that’s part of the reason people want to avoid a strike.
“We noticed…after the professors had their [strike], the place changed. It really did. It’s not the same here as it was before [the professors’ strike]…People seem to be more secretive. It doesn’t have that small school feel anymore,” he said.
Burton Beach has been with Aramark for eight years. He says the staff is frustrated and doesn’t understand why the negotiations are taking so long.
“I’d like to see this settled as soon as possible so we can see we’re worth the money we’re asking for,” he said. “It’s not asking a whole lot.”
Lawrence Durling, vice-president of administration and finance at STU, says Aramark’s offer is “quite generous” considering how much money the university has put aside for food services. He’s hopeful the two parties can come to a agreement soon.
However, Durling said if the cafeteria staff does decide to strike or if Aramark locks them out, Aramark’s contract with the university requires the company will bring in temporary workers until strike ends.
According to the union, service workers are the lowest paid employees in the province. Pilling says compared to other university cafeteria staff, STU’s Aramark staff is the lowest paid in the Maritimes.
“Everybody’s playing catch-up and we’re significantly behind,” he said. “Something’s gotta give.”
Pilling says the union gave Aramark their final counter-offer last week. Now it’s a waiting game.
If Aramark does not accept the offer, the union will ask the conciliation officer to file a report to Martine Coulombe, New Brunswick’s minister of post-secondary education, labour and training. She will then decide if the workers can strike or if it’s back to the negotiating table.
“It’s a slow and steady battle that will hopefully get done before anything happens,” Pilling said.