CUPE employees at Queen’s University’s Donald Gordon Centre poised to strike

Differences in wages paid by food services contractor Aramark Canada to employees in the hospitality and food service sectors of Queen’s University have led to overwhelming support of strike action by the unionized workers at the University’s Donald Gordon Hotel and Conference Centre, according to the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).

Queen’s University’s Donald Gordon Hotel and Conference Centre in Kingston. Photo via Google.

Citing “a stark difference in wages paid to employees of the same company,” CUPE Local 229 stated that 96 per cent of their members working at the Donald Gordon Centre voted to “give their bargaining team a strong strike mandate” last week. The bargaining team is continuing negotiations with their employer, Aramark Canada.

Aramark, the food and hospitality services contractor at Queen’s University, pays its food service workers at the Donald Gordon Centre “significantly less per hour” than it pays its employees in food services elsewhere on Queen’s University campuses, CUPE stated in a press release on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022. Those wage differences can be up to 38 per cent, CUPE claimed, with some workers making up to $6 less per hour than workers doing the same job at other locations at Queen’s.

“Simple fairness says that Aramark should have the same pay rates and scales for all its food service workers at Queen’s, regardless of where they work,” Sherri Ferris, president of CUPE Local 229, said in a statement, noting that Aramark is a “multibillion-dollar company” whose contracts with Queen’s University are “worth millions.”

“Aramark can afford fairness,” Ferris stated.

The union went on to state that, currently, dishwashers employed by Aramark working on Queen’s University campuses earn $21.36 per hour, while dishwashers employed by Aramark at the Donald Gordon Centre earn $15.42 per hour. The union said that it has proposed “a reasonable timeline for equalizing wages.”

“But Aramark still says no, and that’s why workers voted in such numbers in favour of a strike,” said Ferris.

According to CUPE, Donald Gordon Centre employee, Joe DeSousa, feels that equal pay for all Aramark employees at Queen’s would help with staff recruiting and retainment issues they claim are currently experienced at the Conference Centre. Aramark employs approximately 35 people at the Donald Gordon Centre, significantly fewer than prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the union said.

“Fairness for workers will create conditions that let us provide high-quality services for the guests and clients for the Donald Gordon Centre,” DeSousa said.

CUPE asserted that Queen’s University is partially responsible for the situation.

“Queen’s posts a strategy on its website that talks about values and embedding the university in the Kingston community. If it’s serious about this vision, it should be requiring its contractors to deliver basic fairness and a decent wage to the local residents they employ,” said Ferris.

According to CUPE, negotiations between the Union and Aramark will resume on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022.

Kingstonist reached out to both Aramark Canada and Queen’s University for comment on the matter, and to confirm the claims made by CUPE. While Queen’s indicated they would respond, no actual response was received from either organization by time of publication.

The Donald Gordon Hotel and Conference Centre is a large conference and learning facility owned by Queen’s University. It contains 15 conference rooms and meeting spaces, 80 hotel rooms, and hospitality services to accommodate events such as meetings, conferences, work retreats, and weddings.

Kingstonist will provide updates if/when more information becomes available.

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