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Coalition optimistic SFU will bring cleaning and food service contract workers in-house

A coalition calling for SFU’s contract workers in cleaning and food services to be brought in as in-house employees, rather than contracted out to an outside company, says it’s optimistic the university will come around to its point of view.

Enda Brophy with Contract Worker Justice @SFU, who’s also an associate professor at the university’s School of Communication, says his group has met with consultants from Deloitte, who were hired by SFU last month to analyze the costs and benefits of bringing the workers in-house.

The coalition says the contracted companies rely on a “low wage, insecure, precarious workforce which could not be more different demographically than the university’s highest-paid employees”.

“We made the case to Deloitte that financial considerations should not come first here—that is a matter of social justice. And this is the case that we’ve made from the very beginning,” Brophy told the Beacon.

SFU president Joy Johnson wrote in a statement in September that Deloitte’s work would look at the value, risks, and impacts to the university and other stakeholder groups. She said while SFU understood that CWJ wanted a review of the current employment arrangements, it also had to take into account concerns around possible tuition increases if employees were to be brought in-house.

“SFU is committed to creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive community where all feel welcome, safe, accepted, and appreciated. We care about both employees and contractors who work at SFU’s campuses, and we will continue to look for ways to encourage fair employment for all,” Johnson wrote.

Inclusive employment

But Brophy said if the university can afford equity, diversity, and inclusion programs for its faculty and staff, he doesn’t understand why it can’t afford them for its low-wage workforce as well.

“If we believe in equity, diversity and inclusion at SFU, then these workers need to be brought back in-house. These workers, at the moment, do not make a living wage in Burnaby,” he said.

“And they are excluded from a whole series of services that other workers on campus, including myself, take for granted.”

For instance, Brophy said, outsourced cleaning and food services staff have no access to on-campus daycares, libraries, or tuition waivers for their children—structurally excluding them from the rest of the SFU community.

“And, of course, it’s important to remember the demographic composition of this workforce, which is overwhelmingly women workers, racialized workers, and immigrants to Canada,” he said.

CWJ says workers in similar positions at comparable universities like UBC and UVic are employed in-house, and make significantly more than their contract worker counterparts at SFU.

Because employment contracts are tethered to the term of the agreement between the contracted company and SFU, CWJ says workers also don’t have the same level of job security as those at other universities.

“If UBC and UVic can do this, then why can’t we? Both of those institutions are able to keep those services in house,” Brophy said.

“And not surprisingly, workers at both of those institutions in comparable job categories fare better than those at SFU in every single respect. It’s not that the work is not outsourced because it’s low-wage. It’s low-wage because it’s outsourced.”

SFU expects a final report from Deloitte on the matter by later this fall, and university leadership are planning to make a recommendation to the board of governors by next spring.