Strikers deserve better conditions

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

March 27, 2007 Ed Cartoon

Yesterday, students and faculty were inconvenienced by Huron College’s striking food-service workers, who partially blocked off the Huron parking lots to make their cause heard.

While the strikers certainly have reason to be upset, the issue is complicated; they’re employed by an outside company separate from main campus’ services and they’ve caused both students and faculty headaches with their parking-lot picketing.

It’s easy to sympathize with the strikers, who not only make less than their main-campus counterparts, but who also face an extremely inflexible sick-day policy. Workers in this industry are often overworked and underpaid, and it reflects badly on Huron and Western when it appears the school isn’t respecting its workers.

Also, forcing employees to work while sick is a health hazard and therefore unacceptable.

However, strikers should be careful with the methods they use to make their point. It’s tougher to garner public support when you’re causing people great inconvenience and, ideally, the strikers could find a method specifically targeting people who can directly address their problem. Logistically, this can be difficult, especially when the striking group wants to create enough trouble that outsiders become aware of their cause.

The university can help minimize the inconvenience caused by the picketers by making allowances for any students late for class or other academic commitments. In doing so, the school can, at the very least, create a better atmosphere for the strikers to make their point.

Technically, the dispute is between the strikers and their employer, Compass Group Canada. Huron College has no official role in the dispute. However, Huron shouldn’t turn a blind eye, as the problem directly affects its students and faculty, making the school a stakeholder in the disagreement.

If Compass continues paying its employees a below-average wage, workers with more experience are likely to seek other jobs, leaving the Huron food court with inexperienced or less skilled workers. While food preparation, in this case, isn’t difficult to teach, it’s important to have happy employees who care enough to abide by all health regulations.

Yet forcing Compass to increase employee wages beyond its means to do so may encourage the company to cut corners in other areas, such as food quality. Western has a good reputation compared to other universities for on-campus food, and it’s important not to jeopardize it.

The university should thus assist in the negotiations between the strikers and Compass. While it may be financially unreasonable for Compass to meet all its workers’ demands, it’s important to the university’s students, faculty and reputation that Huron’s conditions improve.

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