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The Union Is Coming

by David Tough

The Union Is Coming

The corporate food provider for Carleton University has signed a card-check neutrality agreement, paving the way for the unionization of on-campus food service workers. Aramark employees have been signing cards to unionize with Hospitality and Services Trade Union (HSTU) Local 261 and indicate that the union is on its way.

“Majority has been reached. They’re just waiting for more cards to have more power,” says Shane Price, who worked at Aramark’s A&W outlet in the Carleton Unicentre food court until late March.

The card-check neutrality agreement allows HSTU Local 261 to submit the union authorization cards to a third party for verification and file for recognition of the union, bypassing the certification vote required by legislation.

Workers “were excited about” the card-check neutrality, says Price. “It felt almost like winning before you won, knowing you can win once you have enough cards.”
“When they have a strong union, they’ll be able to get better wages, job seniority, and more of a say in the workplace.”

The details of the card-check neutrality agreement between Aramark and the union – including which workers are covered by the agreement, the conditions under which signatures can be collected, and the concessions made by both parties – remain secret.

Stuart Ryan, business agent for CUPE 4600, explains that card-check neutrality is significant in protecting workers from an intimidation campaign. “Card-check neutrality means that the employer will not instigate a campaign against the unionization drive. [Workers] should not fear persecution from the employer for signing a union card.”

For decades, successive Ontario governments supported the card-based system of certification, where having more than 55% of cards signed in favour of unionization sufficiently indicated the desire of workers to have a union and allowed for automatic certification.

The Ontario Federation of Labour explains that “the card majority system of membership evidence provided an accurate picture of the wishes of employees because it protected them to a great extent from intimidation, harassment and reprisal from anti-union employers.”

Now a majority of employees must vote in favour of unionization before a union can be certified, even after a majority of workers have signed union authorization cards. This stipulation is a legacy of Bill 7, passed by the Progressive Conservative government of Mike Harris in 1995.

Wayne Fraser, the director of the United Steelworkers, described Bill 7 at the time as “the most regressive, anti-union and anti-worker labour legislation in Ontario history.”

This anti-union legislation allows employers to run intimidation campaigns leading up to the vote with the intent of weakening employee resolve.
“Mandatory representation votes ignore the realities of the workplace. In order to be democratic, a vote must take place in a setting that is free from coercion and intimidation,” Fraser added. “The suggestion that mandatory certification votes are democratic reveals a wilful blindness to the overwhelming power and control exerted by employers in the workplace.”

The card-check neutrality agreement between Aramark and HSTU Local 261, an affiliate of the international union UNITE HERE, comes after a visible student campaign in support of food service workers’ right to unionize.

Aramark may also have decided to grant card-check neutrality because of the impending expiration of its contract with Carleton in 2013.

The corporation has also faced concurrent unionization pressures at other locations, including Georgetown University in Washington, DC. At Loyola University in Chicago – where Aramark agreed to remain neutral as the result of a successful campaign led by students, professors, and workers – food service workers recently won a union.

The unionization drive of Aramark workers at Carleton University went public in the spring of 2010, amid concerns over the circulation of intimidating letters from the employer that suggested workers would be fired for attempting to unionize.
A student support campaign quickly formed. Many students, faculty, and workers have since expressed consistent support for food service workers’ right to unionize, by wearing stickers, signing a petition, and writing letters. Campus United, the coalition of campus unions and student associations, called on Carleton President Roseann Runte to ensure that Aramark remain neutral throughout the union drive.

Ryan notes that even after a successful union drive, there is still work to be done.
“There’s the next step of course, which is very difficult, which is getting a first [collective] agreement, so solidarity from other people is still needed.”

This article originally appeared in the April 2011 edition of The Leveller.


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