2021 End-of-Year Update

A letter to our supporters


Thank you for endorsing our letter to SFU President Joy Johnson, delivered on March 17th. In it, we asked SFU Administration to directly employ cleaning and food service workers on SFU campuses instead of contracting out this work to private, for-profit companies. The initial 80 signatories of our letter have been joined by almost 500 faculty and another 300 community members, and with that strong show of support we have taken our concerns to elected and appointed officials. Our demand has been endorsed by every major constituency on campus, including faculty, graduate students, undergraduate students, and unions. The campaign has also been endorsed by Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley, and by Burnaby-area MLAs Janet Routledge and Katrina Chen. As 2021 draws to a close we’d like to give you an update on the campaign and a heads up on what to expect in the New Year.

SFU Administration

In response to our original letter, President Johnson agreed to meet with us. Dr. Johnson indicated that the campaign’s demands could have a significant financial impact on SFU which she felt might not be easy to manage, given the effects that Covid-19 was already having on the university budget. She was non-committal about starting a process to further examine the feasibility of bringing the work in-house because she felt it would add to the administrative burden SFU was already facing from the pandemic.

The letter President Johnson sent to us on May 5th was somewhat more positive, and she indicated that she was willing to initiate a review of the “…costs, benefits, potential savings, required support structures and the competitive landscape in our campuses and in our region…” She noted that the workers were unionized and asserted that SFU was committed to working with the contractors and unions to ensure fair employment and job security. In September President Johnson announced that she had hired the private consulting firm Deloitte to conduct a review of the contracted cleaning and food service workers. According to Johnson’s public letter: “Their analysis will determine the value, risks, and impacts to university and relevant stakeholder groups for each of the service delivery models. This work begins this September and we expect a final report by later this fall.”

Our Response to President Johnson

The President’s larger initiative to make SFU a university characterized by its commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) aligns with our campaign: if our demands are met, some of the university’s most marginalized workers will immediately see improvements to their wages and access to university services. While contract workers come from all backgrounds, many are immigrants and the majority are women. The kind of benefits most of us enjoy as members of the SFU community are denied to these workers. While direct employment may cost SFU Administration more, we maintain it is a matter of basic social justice and the right thing to do. It is reprehensible to allow a corporation to profit from our community’s basic needs such as food and cleanliness while paying workers less than a living wage. Contract workers should be direct employees of SFU and full members of our communities.

Our Research and the Board of Governors Presentation

In November we began to interview cleaning and food services workers in order to find out more about their working conditions and experiences of our campus community. The conversations have been deeply troubling, but also quite powerful in the solidarity that has been generated. We have heard stories of unpaid work, managerial intimidation, unsafe working conditions, and sick days denied the midst of a pandemic. Workers have been extremely courageous in sharing their experiences, and we will be making our findings public in a report which will be released in the New Year.

After denying us an opportunity to present at the November 2021 meeting, the SFU Board of Governors has added our group to their agenda for the January 27, 2022 meeting (to be held at the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, Room 320, 8:00am). We hope to give the Board an opportunity to hear directly from some of the workers affected as well as from the unions and other members of the SFU community, and we encourage you to join us (despite the early hour!).

Finally, please do reach out if you would like to support the campaign in 2021. This website contains a great deal more information regarding the campaign and how to get involved.

John Calvert and Enda Brophy,


Contract Worker Justice SFU