A stark difference in wages paid to employees of the same company is behind a 96% strike vote by hospitality and food services staff at Queen’s University’s Donald Gordon Hotel and Conference Centre.

Members of CUPE 229 voted last week to give their bargaining team a strong strike mandate, as negotiations continue with their employer, Aramark Canada.

Aramark is the contractor for food and hospitality services at Queen’s University. But the company pays its food services workers at Queen’s Donald Gordon Centre significantly less per hour than it pays their counterparts on Queen’s campuses – in some cases, up to $6 less per hour, even when these workers do the very same job.

“Simple fairness says that Aramark should have the same pay rates and scales for all its food service workers at Queen’s, regardless of where they work,” said Sherri Ferris, president of CUPE 229.

“Aramark is a multibillion-dollar company. Its contracts with Queen’s are worth millions. Aramark can afford fairness.”

Right now, dishwashers employed by Aramark and working on one of Queen’s campuses earn $21.36 per hour, while their Aramark colleagues doing the same job at the Donald Gordon Centre earn $15.42.

CUPE has proposed a reasonable timeline for equalizing wages, “but Aramark still says no, and that’s why workers voted in such numbers in favour of a strike,” said Ferris.

Joe DeSousa, who works at Donald Gordon Hotel and Conference Centre, maintains that equalizing Aramark’s pay scales will stop the revolving door of staff at the centre, where Aramark currently has trouble recruiting and retaining staff.

“Fairness for workers will create the conditions that let us provide high-quality services for the guests and clients of the Donald Gordon Centre,” he said.

At the Donald Gordon Centre, Aramark employs a workforce of approximately 35 people – significantly fewer than before the COVID pandemic.

CUPE also holds Queen’s University responsible in part for the current situation.

“Queen’s posts a strategy on its website that talks about values and embedding the university in the Kingston community. If it’s serious about this vision, it should be requiring its contractors to deliver basic fairness and a decent wage to the local residents they employ.”

Negotiations between CUPE and Aramark will resume August 17. Last week’s vote in favour of strike puts the Donald Gordon Centre workers a step closer to a legal strike if Aramark and the union fail to reach an agreement on a new contract.