BY BILL PHILLIPS
Contract talks between food service workers at UNBC and the Compass Group of Canada have broken down.
“We’ve been at it for the past seven or eight months and the company has been completely unreasonable and disrespectful,” said Harley Augustino, a negotiator for Unite Here Local 40, the union representing the UNBC workers, at a rally outside UNBC president Dan Weeks’ office Wednesday.
He said Compass put a two-cents-per-hour raise on the table, which the union says is unacceptable. Augustino said many employees, some with more than 10 years on the job, still make less than $15/hour.
The union broke off negotiations Wednesday and Augustino said they will be approaching the Labour Relations Board requesting mediation.
Stephanie Baxter, director, Corporate Communications for the Compass Group Canada, said the company will provide a comment Thursday morning.
Augustino, and about 40 people attending the rally, called on university president Dan Weeks to get involved, since it’s the university that has contracted the Compass Group to handle food services.
“We call on the president to step in,” said Augustino, “We think the university has a responsibility when there are poverty wages on the campus. This is an escalating situation and they’ve got to step in.”
UNBC has declined to comment on the matter.
“We are barely able to cover our living expenses with the wages we currently earn, yet the company put a total of two cents on the table yesterday,” said Jeannie Gilbert, a cook at UNBC’s cafeteria.
Melody Danchuk has been working at UNBC for 23 years.
“I’m fighting for my rights that I should have fought for a long time ago,” she said.
Several local groups have thrown their support behind the workers, including the B.C. Federation of Labour.
“What we value, in this community, is respect and we value people being treated fairly and being paid fairly,” said Aaron Eckman, secretary treasurer of the federation. “Folks who live and work her, spend their money here. Don’t apologize for what you’re asking for because when you fight to increase your standard of living, you’re helping the economy.”
He said the living wage in Prince George is $16/hour, which is less than what the local is looking for.
He added that UNBC strives to be a world class facility and, in doing so, should ensure those working at the university get a living wage.
Supporters at the rally came from the Prince George Public Interest Research Group Society (PG PIRG), the University of Northern British Columbia Faculty Association, the Stand Up for the North Committee, Northern FIRE, and the Northern Women’s Centre.
“This university should be standing with the workers from Unite Here 40, not saying ‘it has nothing to do with us it’s just a contractor,'” said Dawn Hemingway of Northern Feminist Institute for Research and Evaluation at the university. “We could have standards in this university that says we will not hire contractors (that don’t pay a living wage).”
Peter Ewart of Stand Up for the North Committee pointed out that Compass is the largest food service company in the world.