Oct 20, 2010


Ottawa - Student campaigners supporting Aramark food service workers and their right to unionize were recently confronted by Carleton University security officers with a harassment complaint levelled by Aramark regional director Shayne MacKenzie, according to student and activist Cheyenne Fleet.

MacKenzie denied that he had asked security to intervene in the case cited by Fleet, but confirmed that managers from Aramark had lodged at least one harassment complaint with the Department of University Safety against campaigners.

This news follows allegations that Aramark has attempted to intimidate workers in order to squash a union drive that began this spring.

Fleet said that she was in the Tory Tunnel, near the University Centre building, when the intervention took place in early September.

She had been speaking to students and distributing campaign stickers bearing the slogan "Hungry for Change: Aramark Workers and Carleton Students United" when two campus security officers approached her.

"In an incredibly aggressive manner, we were told to leave as a harassment complaint had been filed against us," she said in an email to the Leveller.

"When I asked who had filed the complaint, the officers explained that the ‘head of Aramark’ had emailed them. I asked if it was Shayne MacKenzie, and they confirmed this."

The security officers told students that they could continue to campaign as long as they were not "verbally harassing or physically obstructing students," Fleet said.

In a phone interview, MacKenzie denied making the complaint against campaigners at the time and place in question. However, he stated that Aramark managers had asked campus security to intervene following an employee complaint at least once.

"I know we did on one [occasion] in response to a complaint by an employee who said they were being harassed," MacKenzie said.

He denied that Aramark is trying to stop labour organizing on campus, saying that students and organizers have “every right to campaign.”

Allan Burns, director of safety at Carleton University, confirmed that officers confronted campaigners on campus with harassment complaints on Sept. 7 in the Unicentre and Tory Building area, and in late July near the Residence Commons.

However, he would not say who made the complaints or who was confronted by the officers, citing restrictions stemming from freedom of information legislation.

“That information is private,” Burns said.

He added that the officers responding to the complaints found no evidence of campaigners engaging in criminal harassment.

“The determination at that particular time was that, with the evidence we were given at that moment, there didn’t appear to be a breach of the Criminal Code.”

Security officers in the Department of University Safety are special constables, which means they have the power of arrest.

Since early this year, organizers have been campaigning to unionize Aramark food service workers with the Hospitality and Services Trade Union (HSTU) Local 261, an affiliate of the international union UNITE HERE.

Managers at the local campus division of the multinational company – known as Carleton University Dining Services – have attempted to prevent unionization through such means as circulating letters meant to intimidate workers, according to campaigners.

In April, Aramark attached letters, signed by MacKenzie, to employee paystubs saying they could be fired for accessing company records to acquire the home addresses of employees for unionization purposes, or for "harassing ... intimidating or coercing a fellow employee into joining a union or not joining a union."

The letter also noted that employees are free to choose whether or not to join the union.

"Union representation is an individual choice," the letter said.

This article originally appeared in The Leveller