AMS’s boycott of UBC Food Services faces opposition

The AMS’s campaign to boycott UBC Food Services faces opposition from the workers’ union, CUPE 116.

In response to international tuition hikes, the AMS recently passed three motions. One of these mandated the AMS to campaign for students to boycott UBC Food Services, a profit-based arm of the university. This motion inspired an information campaign through which the AMS hopes to encourage students to think more about where they spend their discretionary income.

“It’s planting a seed of information in students’ heads about what businesses on campus do to contribute to the university’s bottom line,” said AMS President Aaron Bailey.

Jenna Omassi, AMS VP Academic and University Affairs, acknowledged that it is not possible for all students to avoid using UBC Food Services, especially first years with meal plans.

The campaign was quickly met with criticism. CUPE 116, the workers’ union representing nearly 2,000 support staff on campus, opposes this campaign. The union says that the campaign risks negatively affecting people working for UBC Food Services, especially students working part time. 

“If there is a reduction of clientele, the first people it is going to affect are the students on campus who work [at UBC Food Services] because they are not working under a collective agreement. They work flexible hours … so if they see a reduction in the need for service, they’ll cut them,” said CUPE 116 President Colleen Garbe. 

The union was also upset that the AMS did not communicate their plans to boycott UBC Food Services directly to CUPE 116. Union VP Dave Lance explains that they only found out about the motion and intended campaign when they read the article regarding the boycott in The Ubyssey.

“We work with the AMS on campus, we negotiate collective agreements on behalf of the students on campus, we have the Graduate Students Society, we have the Aquatics Centre ... so we were a little taken back when this happened without any kind of communication with the union on campus,” said Garbe.

In response to CUPE 116’s concerns, the AMS says that, from their perspective, it does not seem like workers will be impacted by the three-week campaign.

“We don’t think it will have a tangible impact on the scheduling of the actual workers in Food Services in the way that CUPE is purporting within such a short time frame,” said Bailey. “We do recognize that, as an organization, they cannot legally support our boycott, but … through discussions with them, [we] have come to the realization that it won’t have the adverse impact ... that was originally expressed in that letter.”

Bailey also noted that this campaign cannot be halted due to AMS bylaws.

“We as the AMS have a directive … from our board of directors, which is council, to pursue this boycott because general students from the Social Justice Centre brought this motion forward,” said Bailey. “Because of that, we have to enact the boycott campaign. It’s the way our organization is structured and it’s what makes us functionally democratic.” 

The AMS also intends to open — and keep open — communication between them and the union both through this campaign and in their future plans.  

While CUPE 116 appreciates the AMS’s promise of continued communication, they still do not understand the need or support the boycott of UBC Food Services.

“I know they’re trying to bring attention to the raising of the tuition ... we totally understand that and support their efforts to try and reduce the hikes, but we don’t think this is the proper way to go,” said Garbe.