Fight for $15 and Fairness: Interview with Aramark Food Service Workers’ Strike

Written by Alia Karim


Aramark food service workers at York University and University of Toronto Scarborough, members of UNITE HERE Local 75, began an indefinite strike on February 16, 2017. The starting wage at Aramark is currently $12.21/hour and the workers are asking that their base wages be raised to $15 immediately, along with paid sick time and better benefits for workers. They are also demanding the end to anti-black racism, harassment, sexism, and Islamophobia by Aramark managers in the workplace. Management has pressured workers to go back to work and it is very likely that they will use replacement workers (also known as scabs) to try to break the strike.

At York, the Cross-campus Alliance and student groups have organized rallies, marches, solidarity coffee servings, and class talks. They’re asking for community support by signing a letter at to pressure York administration to negotiate with Aramark for a better deal for the workers.

Alia Karim of the TYFPC sat down with Melissa Sobers, an Aramark worker at Rogers Centre and representative of UNITE HERE Local 75, to discuss the strike.

Q: Why are these workers are on strike and what are they demanding?

Workers at University of Toronto Scarborough (UofT) campus and at York are on strike because their collective agreements have been up since September of last year. This has been building from countless years of harassment, intimidation, discrimination, and abuse in the workplace that has brought them to this point.

They’ve gained so much momentum in terms of student and staff support that they feel it’s their time. Now since people have been mobilizing and helping them out, they’re seeing it visibly now and they have the confidence to go out on strike.

There’s over 200 workers at York and 60 workers at UofT Scarborough. A lot of them live in the Jane and Finch area. A lot of them are living in ‘paycheque-to-paycheque’ poverty. That is what’s led to this kind of climax where they’ve demanding better work and living conditions.

They’re demanding $15/hour starting wages upon ratification of the new agreement, plus $1 dollar increase for the next 3 years, so by the end of it they should be at $18/hour. They’re asking for better paid sick time without the need for a doctor’s note or expensive medical certificates.

And they’re asking for respect and dignity. That’s stated in the university’s governance policies but it’s not put in practice in these workplaces by the managers. It’s ridiculous to know that they’re abused, verbally and physically, in the ways that they are on campus. They’re asking for the end of that.

Q: Can you talk more about that and the racism and Islamophobia that they’ve experienced at work?
The vast majority of our workers are racialized women. Most of them have experienced harassment and intimidation from managers, physically pushing them to work harder, or they’ll be punished in some sort of way like cutting their hours. As an Aramark worker I see that myself at the Rogers Centre. But when you’re working for about $12/hour you can’t afford to have one hour cut!

There have also been instances where managers have told workers that they are going to stop hiring black workers in their kitchens. Workers have been told they’re not going to be promoted because they’re visibly Muslim and they wear a hijab. There have been pregnant workers who have bullied and harassed to continue working even though they needed a break. People are not given adequate breaks, or breaks at all, even though they’re entitled to them. They’re worked to the bone.

The managers have also said that they can’t talk to university administration. They’re seen as subhuman to the rest of the university community.

There’s been a lot of nasty stories I’ve hear from these people that are mostly racialized women. It’s really heartbreaking to hear that. But they’re not weak people—they’re fighting back! They’ve brought it to management and they haven’t done anything so now they’re bringing their fight to the university community.

Q: What is going to happen to other UNITE HERE Local 75 members across Toronto?

There are a number of Aramark locations that are going up for contract negotiations. Upper Canada College is already up and they’re working on organizing their 100% strike vote. Rogers Centre, where I work—we’ve been out of a contract since last September—they’re looking to get a strike there. There’s also Toronto French School. And some non-Aramark places like Compass at St. Michael’s at UofT—they’re looking to join this momentum. They all have the same demands.

Q: How can we support the strike?

If you have family members or friends who go to these institutions tell them to boycott Aramark. Put pressure on the York and UofT Scarborough administration as much as you can! The best way is to sign our letter to President Shoukri and York administration at It takes less than a minute and it’s a great way to put pressure on the university—the administration hires Aramark as a subcontractor so they could negotiate a better deal with Aramark that honours the workers’ demands.

You can also come out on the picket lines at both universities. Physical presence is really helpful to workers and it also shows the university the strong allyship these workers have. So come out and show your support on the picket line!

Where are we now?

Striking cafeteria workers working for Aramark at York University voted to ratify the tentative settlement on March 6, 2017. This settlement means an immediate raise in their pay cheques of more than 10% for most workers. Within a year no worker will be making less than $15 an hour. In addition, full- and part-time workers have won immediate free dental coverage and, by the end of the agreement all workers will enjoy full and free health benefits for themselves and their families. Congrats to these workers!

University of Toronto Scarborough campus workers are still on strike. For the latest updates on their strike, and to support these workers, see and Unite Here Local 75’s Facebook page.


Mapping Your Food Career: February 2017 Community Meeting Re-Cap

On Feburary 6th, 2017, The Toronto Youth Food Policy Council hosted its bi-monthly community event at Regent Park Community Food Centre, as an opportunity for young people to explore careers in food. The event titled “Mapping Your Food Career” provided a safe space for youth to discover the many potentials and possibilities of employment in the food sector through hearing from food professionals and local food leaders to who have established their careers in food activism, research, programming, and public and non- profit food work.

Before there was a chance to hear from the experts, the night started off with a ‘Network Career Café’, where attendees had informal chats with other aspiring foodies and food professionals about their career backgrounds, their food interests and career goals. From my own experience of participating in the career cafe, I was able to hear a diverse set of experiences from just the few people around me, including someone who had just completed their university degree and was planning for their next steps in their food career as well another attendee who was working on innovating new food growing methods. It was a very eye-opening experience!

The later part of the night allowed for a panel discussion with professionals from across Toronto’s foodscape. The panelists included: Sarah Archibald, Program Manager at Meal Exchange, Katie German, School Grown Program Manager at FoodShare, Rachel Gray, Executive Director of The Stop, Tania Fernandez, Manager of Healthy School Kids Challenge in Rexdale, Spencer Fowlie Healthy Menu Planner at Real Food for Real Kids, Emily Martin, Manager at Regent Park Community Food Centre, Ziadh Rabbani, Green Access Community Health Worker at Access Alliance Multi-Cultural Health and Community Services and Jessica Reeve, Coordinator of the Toronto Food Policy Council (TFPC). The panelists spoke about how they found their way into their present food careers, while making mention of their successes and challenges through school and different jobs and inspiring mentors that picked them up along the way. The speakers had much knowledge and wisdom to offer! Among some of the highlights, panelists spoke about the particular economic and social challenges today’s youth face while trying to find employment and the importance of carrying motivation and passion in your food career goals.

In addition to our panelists, we also had: Food Grads, Meal Exchange, York Environmental Studies and the Toronto Youth Food Policy Council table at the event to provide additional information for attendees. The event was catered by Hawthorne Food and Drink, an innovative social enterprise that offers catering or dining in downtown Toronto, who provided us with street style noodles and a taco bar! Yumm.

The event was overall inspiring and provided great insight into the world of food careers. With growing interest in food issues, such as food justice, food insecurity and food access in Toronto and the GTA, it is more important than ever to explore the many ways in which we can address concerns in the food system through diverse career paths. We had a great time and we hope everyone who attended did too! See you at our next community meeting in April!

Author: Janany Nagulan
Editors: Fateha Hossain and Hilda Nouri


Our ‘Network Career Cafe’


Taco bar and Street Style Noodles from Hawthorne Food and Drink!

tyfpc speakers
Our lovely panelists!


Fighting For Food Justice in the Black Creek Community: Report, Analyses and Steps Forward

The Black Creek Food Justice Network has recently launched their report, Fighting for Food Justice in the Black Creek Community: Report, Analyses and Steps Forward. Demands from the Black Creek Community.


Here are the summarized demands of the Black Creek Community for Food Justice:

Improve Growing Spaces and Support for Urban Growing
1. Make City Parks and Hydro Corridors accessible for community residents to garden and grow food
2. Create, fund and maintain a garden in every school
3. Assure core funding from all levels of government for organizations doing food justice and urban agriculture work so that they can be sustainable

Make Food More Affordable by Raising Wages and Social Safety Nets
1. Increase and maintain the minimum wage at a liveable wage rate or a basic guaranteed income
2. Raise Ontario Disability Support Program and Ontario Works rates

Fight for Justice for the People that Work to Feed Us
1. Support migrant farm workers’ political demands, which include a) access to landed status upon arrival; b) a permanent residency regularization program for those already in Canada, c) equal access to all social programs; d) a fair appeal process before any repatriation order; and e) full protections under the provincial Employment Standards Act and Regulations
2. Subsidize small farmers and promote ecologically informed farming policies that support young, new, and racialized farmers.

Stop Criminalizing Our Communities
1. Remove security guards and undercover police from grocery stores in predominantly racialized and working-class communities (high-income and/or largely white neighbourhoods do not have visible security presence)

Connect Food and Health 
1. Make healthy food more accessible to people with mental and physical health challenges
2. Mandate published images be representative of a variety of bodies, body shapes, sizes and skin tones.

Voices Speak Out on Hidden Labor in the Food System at TYFPC Community Meeting & Launch of TYFPC’s ‘The Gathering’ Academic Journal

On Monday, December 5th, 2016, over 50 students, workers, academics, activists and community members gathered at our December community meeting held at the Workers Action Centre to discuss the topic of hidden labor in our food system and make space for the stories of food workers that often go unheard. Our food system is heavily reliant on workers across the food chain who grow, harvest, package, transport, sell and serve our food to us daily. While the food industry makes up one the largest work forces in Canada, the labor, rights and experiences of food workers has remained hidden for far too long and is often characterized by precarious work conditions and racialized and migrant labor.

Our lively evening began with an opportunity for guests to grab a spot at a “networking table”,  introduce themselves and share with one another their various experiences and connections to food. The room was filled with vibrant chatter as well as the aroma of the delicious daal, curry and zeera rice, catered by ‘Flavors of Thorncliffe’, a women’s catering collective in Thorncliffe Park. Guests then gathered to toast the launch of the Toronto Youth Food Policy Council’s academic journal: ‘The Gathering’ and applaud the creative and insightful work of the authors and TYFPC members who brought the journal to life.

The following portion of the night invited food workers and food and labor activists to sit on our guest panel to share their experiences of food work in Ontario. Panel members attested their realities of poor work conditions and spoke to the fragility of their jobs, as well as the critical work that groups are currently pursuing to fight for better wages and employment conditions and status for workers. One of our panelists, Chris Ramsaroop, a pivotal member of ‘Justicia for Migrant Workers’ and the ‘Harvesting Freedom’ campaign communicated the importance of storytelling. This has been a critical part of the ‘Harvesting Freedom’ campaign which has been running via a caravan of migrant workers and allies travelling throughout Ontario since September; promoting worker’s rights for migrant farmworkers and creating safe spaces for their voices.  Two other panelists spoke about their involvement in UNITE HERE Local 75, a union representing hotel, restaurant and food service workers, majorly comprised of women and people of color.  The two panelists highlighted the unfair changes from new union contracts that Aramark food workers employed at the University of Toronto and York University were fighting against and the resilient ways in which they were supporting one another.

All our panelists brought worthwhile insight and discussion, emphasizing the value in continuing these kinds of conversations and acknowledging the diversity of experiences of workers across the food system. We hope the event sparked a hunger for change for those who attended and their wider communities as well as continued support towards the tireless efforts of groups such as ‘Justicia for Migrant Workers, UNITE HERE Local 75’s campaign and No One is Illegal.

A big thanks to our panelists for giving their time and energy for the night and for the energetic presence of our guests. Our academic journal, ‘The Gathering’ – Volume 3 is now available online here and will be offered in print this coming month. The TYFPC is now also accepting creative art submissions(drawings, graphics, poems, photos and more) for our art’s journal: “Melange”. Please send your submissions to with “Melange 2017 Submission” in the subject line. Stay tuned via our Facebook, Twitter and our Newsletter for updates on TYFPC’s next events and our next community meeting on Monday, February 6th, 2017! For any further questions or comments please email us at!




Submissions now open for Mélange Creative Arts Journal!

The TYFPC is officially seeking submissions for our second issue of Mélange Creative Arts Journal! 

We are currently seeking submissions by youth (30 and under). Send in your photography, art, poetry, creative writing, recipes, and all other creative food projects welcome!

Submission Guidelines:
Visual media submissions are to be no larger than 8.5”/11” and with the resolution of 300dpi. Written submissions are to be no longer than 1000 words.

Submission deadline: February 28, 2017

Please send your submissions to with “Melange 2017 Submission” in the subject line.