McMaster food strike holding up traffic

Hamilton Spectator, January 7, 2011 :

Hamilton : McMaster’s food-service workers rejected the university’s last contract offer in voting late Thursday, and set up pickets by 6 a.m. Friday. Police reported significant delays getting onto the campus and warned of a 30-care lineup out onto Main Street asw pickets held up vehicles.

The lineup at the Sterling Street entrance goes all the way back to King.

GO Transit was forced to reroute its buses. Bus access to the campus is not currently available. Westbound trips disembark at Main at Bowman and eastbound trips board at Main and Emerson.

McMaster is warning staff and students to leave early for work or classes and to be patient in getting into the campus during the day. This is the second strike at McMaster in 15 months.

About 170 members of the Service Employees International Union had been preparing to walk out after their bargaining committee recommended they turn down the settlement offer the university tabled in last-minute talks Tuesday and Wednesday.

SEIU Local 2 chief negotiator Ted Mansell said the contract was rejected by 90 per cent of those who voted. He estimated about 85 per cent of the members attended the vote.

The workers prepare and serve meals to residence students and work in campus food outlets such as Tim Hortons and Pizza Pizza. Most earn between $15 and $21 an hour.

Teaching and research assistants went on strike for a week in November 2009, over the issue of benefits, class sizes and the lowering of take-home pay through tuition increases. The members of CUPE Local 3906, which represented 2,700 members, voted to accept an offer not supported by the union.

“It’s disappointing,” said McMaster spokesperson Andrea Farquhar of the food services vote. “I think anytime we are in negotiations we are very studious about working hard at the table in getting a deal, a fair deal, that reflects the valuable work that is done by the employees, as well as the needs and capabilities of the university to pay the salaries.”

The union says the offer would undermine job security, reduce sick pay and vacation entitlements, and erode take-home pay by imposing “expensive” employee benefit contributions.

“It really comes as no surprise,” said Mansell. “These people didn’t have any other choice. This is about maintaining decent jobs in Hamilton. We just think it’s a real shame. It’s truly despicable.”

No new talks are scheduled.

The SEIU was planning to set up picket lines at university entrances, while the university was planning to have food service managers serve meals in high priority locations such as the Mary Keyes and Commons facilities where residence students on prepaid plans rely on the meals.

“Our priority is to ensure all of those who are part of the meal program get the food and services they are expecting to receive,” said Farquhar.

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