CJW launches examination into SFU's contracted-out cleaning and food service staff

April 19, 2022

In March 2021, the Contract Worker Justice (CWJ) group launched a campaign that examined the working conditions of cleaning and food service workers at the Burnaby campus of Simon Fraser University. Inspired by concern for social justice and led by our very own School of Communication Dr. Enda Brophy, CWJ set out with the goal of transitioning contracted-out workers into “in-house” employees so they can receive the same benefits and rights as other SFU staff and faculty. CWJ’s research showed that when compared with the collective agreements of those in equivalent in-house positions at both UBC and UVic, our cleaning staff, contracted by BEST Service Pros, and our food service workers, contracted by Compass-Chartwell, fell short in every category, including wages, benefits, and campus service accessibility.

During the second phase of the campaign, CWJ conducted interviews with twenty-one cleaning and food service staff across campus. Many workers expressed extreme dissatisfaction of their conditions, and most felt a strong sense of alienation from the SFU community. They emphasized their non-existent benefits, low wages, and lack of managerial support. Almost every one of them went home with less than Burnaby’s living wage, exasperated by layoffs from Covid-19. Unlike these workers, directly-hired employees at UVic and UBC were assigned other duties during the pandemic to avoid a complete loss of work.

Contracting out has not only enabled the university to neglect accountability but has also erected barriers between the workers and the broader SFU community. While faculty and in-house staff have access to a range of on-campus resources, such as the athletic centre, daycare, and discounted parking, contract workers do not, augmenting this sense of exclusion.  

CWJ hopes these findings will encourage SFU to create a better working environment by eliminating contract work. The university has commissioned a study by Deloitte exploring the feasibility of in-sourcing food and cleaning services on campus, but this study has not yet been made public. Brophy feels that “the CWJ study is an example of collaboratively-developed research which supports some of the most vulnerable workers on campus. We all depend on their work and as a community we can and must do better by them.” Direct employment will provide higher standards for working conditions. If food service and cleaning workers were brought in-house, they would finally obtain the same benefits as other staff members and access to SFU services, recognizing their crucial role in the university’s maintenance and functionality.