The labour dispute has rippled into UNB’s food service provider.
Sodexo has already scaled back hours as students slowly head home during the strike. Many retail services on campus, including the grill in the Student Union Building, have already shut down. Sodexo district manager Anne McFetridge said as long as residences stay open, McConnell hall will remain at full service.
Employees with higher seniority status were given first choice on the available hours, but those whom Sodexo couldn’t accommodate were laid off. Those workers are permitted to seek employment elsewhere and those eligible could apply for unemployment, and collect if they are actively looking for work.
Sodexo has opened every available outlet for its employees to collect hours, including Aitken Centre events, and many senior employees have exercised the option to work those shifts.
“As we reduce service levels, particularly in retail, those employees are offered an opportunity to bump into available job space based on their seniority,” McFetridge said. “The most junior ones, unfortunately, are the ones we don’t have work for. Traditionally our unionized staff don’t work concessions, but in an environment like this we’ll offer them anything that’s available.”
Sodexo kept certain retail outlets open including the coffee shop in the Harriet Irving Library and the Tim Hortons in the SUB. They also opened the grill for about two hours in week one of the strike for customers to purchase grab-and-go items like pizza. McFetridge said they’re doing 25 to 30 per cent of a normal day in sales.
“It’s huge. We anticipated that Tim Hortons would be busier than it is, and we actually thought the library might be busier because in my past experience the library becomes a popular place because students are focused on keeping up with work so they’re ready when the faculty comes back,” McFetridge said.
McFetridge has dealt with faculty strikes at Acadia, Mount Allison and StFX, and said she’s never dealt with a strike that started this early in the term.
In anticipation of a strike, Sodexo braced itself and reduced its delivery order before the Jan. 13 strike deadline. This way, not as much food will go to waste.
Sodexo is required under contract to keep providing service to residences, but retail outlets are a different story.
“We will never go to the university and say ‘We want to close residence dining,’ ” McFetridge said.
“They, as the client, have the option to say ‘You will close residence dining,’ but they are very sensitive to the fact that not everybody can pack their bags and go. They will always look over those students who don’t have a choice. No question.”