‘Fight for $15 and Fairness’ advocates for change in WLU

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Photo by Paige Bush

On Feb. 14, in the Wilfrid Laurier University concourse, a campaign called $15 and Fairness had a booth promoting awareness for their cause, as well as to hand out some Valentine’s Day candy. The campaign’s goal is to raise minimum wage to fifteen dollars and provide fairness and stability within the workplace.

“This is about the community and the groups on campus that are not getting a fifteen-dollar minimum wage and are not being protected,” Matt Thomas, electronic resources librarian, said.

“We’re a university, we should be providing good jobs not only to people on campus like food workers, but I think also our students. The increase in precarious labour and low-wage labour in our province is astonishing,” Kimberly Ellis-Hall, contract academic staff, said.

“Precarious labour [are] jobs that are contract, part-time, short term, or temporary,” Ellis-Hall explained.

“There’s a huge wage differentiation you can see at Laurier between full-time and part-time faculty. There are virtually no benefits, no sick days, and tend to be low-income.”

11 campuses around Ontario are involved in the $15 and Fairness Campaign, but the most notable participant is York University. The movement is backed by York University Graduate Students’ Association, who have publicly shown support through organized protests and online informational videos.

“Students and staff and faculty are all rallying around and saying you know what, this is not the way people on campus should be treated,” Ellis-Hall said.

York, as well as Laurier and many other Ontario universities, have a contract with the food service company Aramark. Aramark allegedly pays their standard employees the minimum wage of 11.40 per hour.

The claim is that this is not enough pay for employees, part-time or full-time, to live off.

“One of the figures that I found shocking was the percentage of low-wage workers in Ontario in 2004 was 22 per cent, in 2014 it was 33 per cent… Precarious labour and low wage labour is now becoming more than norm,” Ellis-Hall said.

Kevin Crowley, director of communications and public affairs for Laurier also released an official statement to The Cord via email in response to the $15 and Fairness campaign.

“The minimum wage in Ontario is established by the provincial government. The majority of Laurier employees already earn at least $15 per hour and many earn much higher. Wages for Laurier employees are influenced by three primary factors: the minimum wage required by provincial law; market wage rates for comparable work at other universities and workplaces; and negotiations between the university and the unions that represent employee groups,” read the statement.

“It’s completely within the university’s mandate to go to a company like Aramark and say you have to pay fifteen dollars an hour,” Ellis-Hall claimed.

In a follow-up email statement to The Cord, Crowley said, “The majority of food services workers at Laurier work for the university. The only ones who work for an external employer are those employed in the Terrace. As well, only some of the buildings at Laurier are cleaned by an externally contracted service. Most buildings, including student residences, are cleaned by Laurier employees. Also, I would emphasize that the majority of Laurier employees earn at least $15 per hour, and many earn much more.” *

“There’s the Second Cup in the library. I go there all the time. Some of those people have been working there for a long time. They know what they’re doing, they know the community, they know us,” Thomas said.

This is not the first time concerns have been raised about Laurier’s contract with Aramark. In 2013, Aramark and Ryerson came into trouble regarding what the company was costing the school. However then, Laurier made a statement to remain with Aramark.

$15 and Fairness’ strategy has been to gather signatures from university students, staff and faculty and submit a petition to local MPP’s, as well as submitting labour law reviews that would implement reform to the current legislation.

“Society says that if you work really hard and you get your undergrad degree and your university education, there’s this promise implicit of a good job. Here’s the problem: we can’t live up to that promise anymore,” Ellis-Hall said.

“Since 2000, 25 per cent of all jobs have been part-time, 40 per cent have been temp. So, you’ve got 65 per cent of new jobs created in this province. Since 2000, that doesn’t equal the ideal kind of job that many students think they’re going to get when they’re done their undergrad degree.”

$15 and Fairness is not a campaign just limited to Canada, there have also been “Fights for Fairness” in the United States.

“Laurier administration constantly says there’s supposed to be a community feel on the campus, that we’re not a big faceless university like [larger schools] … but I don’t feel that anymore. There’s so many ways that that is just being pushed away. It’s disappointing,” Thomas claimed.

* This article was updated and altered from its original form on Feb. 15 at 5:25 p.m. as more information was provided.

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