Bad pay, not the worst of it for contract workers at SF University


DOING THE SHIT JOBS not only gets you shit pay, it gets you treated like shit too. That’s the workaday reality for building 155 cleaners and 159 food service workers at Simon Fraser University (SFU), in Burnaby, B.C.  

That stark on-the-job reality is detailed in a recent report by Contract Worker Justice @ SFU, a campaign launched in March by some Simon Fraser University faculty, staff and students.

Contract workers stiffed

The campaign goal is to push SFU to stop contracting out their services and employ the workers directly to provide them with higher pay and better benefits.

Earlier research by Contract Worker Justice @ SFU revealed big wage gaps between SFU contract wages and wages at comparable institutions like UBC and UVic that don’t rely on contractors. Cleaners are paid over $8 an hour less at SFU; food service workers get paid $5 an hour less at SFU.

SFU contract workers also get far fewer paid sick days, no access to extended health benefits and no reduced parking rates.

The report is based on interviews with eight cleaning and 13 food service contract workers at the university. It details experiences of racial and gender-based discrimination, denial of basic tools and supplies needed to complete work, and workplace safety issues.

Worse than expected

“What the workers reported to us is worse than what we thought we would have found,” said Jade Ho, a PhD candidate in education at SFU who interviewed the SFU contract workers.

Some workers reported they faced intimidation or harassment for attempting to report possible workplace violations to WorkSafeBC.

Workers said their treatment doesn’t reflect the fact they’ve been told by the university that their labour is a vital component of COVID safety.

“People in the university — students or faculty — can sit at their computers and work only because we do the dirty work and clean up things,” one worker said in the report. “Their workspace is safe and clean because we do all the physical labour in cleaning up.”

The report says many staff additionally felt demeaned by managers who accused them of laziness and lying about sickness, or by other remarks that were “outright racist”. A meals employee testified to having their English expertise and accent mocked by administration.

Enda Brophy, an SFU associate professor, said the workers’ complaints reflect the nature of contract labour.

“The labour conditions that have been created by contracting out on campus are entirely unacceptable for a public institution,” Brophy said. “And they are especially unacceptable for a public institution which has chosen, honourably, to put ‘Equity, Diversity and Inclusion’ at the centre of its mandate.”

Union calls for end
to all contracting out

Cleaners at SFU are represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3338 Unit 4. In September, the local called for SFU to bring all contract services in-house.

Roughly 64 per cent of the province’s universities and 46 per cent of its colleges contract out some or all of their food services.

Nearly 73 per cent of B.C.’s universities contract out some or all of their custodial services, as do about 21 per cent of B.C.’s colleges.

SFU hired consulting firm Deloitte in September to analyze in-house staffing vs. contracted options for food and cleaning services.

Brophy, along with CUPE Local 3338 president Fiona Brady Lenfesty and dining services cook Jeremy Ebdon presented the Contract Worker Justice @ SFU report to a regular online meeting of the SFU Board of Governors in late January.

The campaign also presented their demands for action, which include bringing all food service and cleaning staff into direct employment as soon as possible, while ensuring that no workers lose their jobs, and recognizing and working with union and campaign representatives.

SFU president Joy Johnson closed the board meeting with the comment, “We haven’t heard the last of this. Obviously, we recognize we need to bring some recommendations to the board to find a path forward.”

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