Donald Gordon Centre workers unanimously approve wage parity deal

Agreement will equalize pay between main campus and conference centre workers over three years

The Donald Gordon Centre runs events for the Queen’s and Kingston community, including conferences.

After recent concerns around pay equality among staff at the Donald Gordon Hotel and Conference Centre and main campus, workers and employers have come to a resolution.

On Aug. 30, Aramark Canada hospitality workers at the Donald Gordon Centre unanimously voted “yes” to a contract that will equalize their wages to those of Aramark staff on Queen’s main campus over three years.

Represented by Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 229, the employees previously agreed to a strike mandate on Aug. 3, citing pay disparities of up to 38 per cent for workers at the Donald Gordon Centre.

The employees argued they’re doing the same job as their main campus counterparts, but have experienced an hourly wage difference of, in some cases, as much as six dollars.

After the passage of the strike mandate, negotiations resumed on Aug. 17, with a tentative deal reached after one day of bargaining.

“We are pleased that today we have worked with the union to reach an agreement that is good for all parties involved,” a representative of Aramark Canada said on the day the deal was reached.

This new agreement will provide annual hourly increases to workers. Dishwashers, who experienced the largest pay disparity, will receive a top pay rate of $22 per hour by 2024.

Other food services and hospitality employees will receive similar increases and starting wages for new employees will be raised.

Sherri Ferris, president of CUPE 229, said Aramark attempted to justify the wage differences by claiming that workers at the Donald Gordon Centre and workers on main campus performed different jobs—due to differing numbers of patrons at each location—even though job titles and responsibilities were the same.

“A plumber is a plumber, an electrician is an electrician, a dishwasher is a dishwasher. When you’re working for the same company, it shouldn’t matter,” Ferris said in an interview with The Journal.

Ferris said the Donald Gordon Centre was hit hard by COVID-19, and low wages contributed to a “revolving door” of workers.

Prior to the pandemic, Ferris claimed the Donald Gordon Centre employed approximately twice as many workers as it does today, many of whom were subsequently laid off.

“I had single women that had been there for 15 to 20 years, that were making $15.40 supporting themselves. You can't live on that in a city,” Ferris said.

While the University said Aramark operates as a separate employer from Queen’s, Ferris believes the University should be taking responsibility to ensure fair treatment for its workers.

“Principal Deane’s stance is sustainability, equality, [fighting] poverty. You should be it practicing in your own house, and you should make sure if you're hiring third party-employers, they are too.”

Aramark Canada took over dining services from previous supplier Sodexo in June 2020. The multibillion-dollar food and facilities services corporation operates at several universities across Canada, including the University of Calgary and Concordia University.

Joe DeSousa, chief steward at the Donald Gordon Centre, hopes this new agreement will enable the Donald Gordon Centre to hire and keep more employees.

“Better paying jobs will allow Aramark to recruit and retain more workers at the Donald Gordon Centre, while clients and guests of the centre will continue to enjoy the same high-quality services they’ve always received,” DeSousa said in a press release.

Aramark Canada did not respond to further requests for comment after the deal was approved.

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