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Union blasts YVR food service operator for lack of transit reimbursement

Workers working after SkyTrain hours have to spend "hundreds of dollars on ride costs," says Unite Here Local 40.
Unite Here Local 40, which represents YVR food workers, has filed a complaint against SSP Canada Food Services for the lack of transit reimbursement.

A union representing food service workers at Vancouver International Airport (YVR) has filed a labour complaint against one of the airport's largest food providers.

Unite Here Local 40 announced Wednesday that it filed a complaint against SSP Canada Food Services for not reimbursing staff for transit costs outside SkyTrain hours.

Uber and taxi ride costs were originally covered by YVR's transit reimbursement program, according to the union, which claims workers were left in a lurch when the airport "suddenly" ended the program on Feb. 1.

YVR, however, told the Richmond News commercial tenants participating in the subsidy program were informed of its discontinuation last November after flights and passenger numbers rebounded from pandemic levels.

"As a result of the pandemic, as flights and passenger numbers dropped considerably, YVR voluntarily undertook various initiatives to help our commercial tenants, such as providing rent relief and a transportation subsidy that could be utilized by their employees," reads the statement from YVR.

"From the outset these measures were designed as temporary."

The statement added tenants are free to implement their own programs for employees.

Alexis Garciano, who works at Sal Y Limon at YVR, said the added transit cost "really hurts" her and her family considering her hourly wage of $19.50.

Garciano is an international student and is working to cover her rent and tuition fees.

“I start my shift at the airport at 5:30 a.m., and I live in East Vancouver,” she explained.

“To get to there on time, I now have to pay for my Ubers early in the morning, which is costing me an extra $100 per week.

"I can’t change my work schedule either, because I have a son who I need to take care of in the afternoons."

Jennie Padilla, who also works at Sal Y Limon, said she only accepted 4:30 a.m. starting shifts because she was told ride costs would be reimbursed.

"I already have to pay for my own Compass transit card, and at times when public transit is not an option for workers, we should be reimbursed for rides needed to get to our jobs," she said.

"YVR set our new earlier opening time, but now they are making the workers suffer by making us pay to get to work."

SSP Canada had a "long-standing practice" of reimbursing staff for transit, said the union, which was cancelled when YVR implemented its own program during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of Feb. 1, the employer has not agreed to reinstate the practice, according to the union.

"This forces already low-paid food service workers to spend hundreds of dollars on ride costs in order to work their scheduled shifts at the airport, which can start or end between 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.," said Unite Here Local 40.

According to the union, the average food service wage at YVR is $18.27, which is "well below" Metro Vancouver's living wage of $25.68.

"In addition to their low wages at the world-class airport, some of these workers now have to pay up to $150 per week just to get to work," said Unite Here Local 40, adding most workers are racialized women.

The union and the employer will be headed to mediation on Feb. 26, according to the Labour Relations Board hearing schedule.

The Richmond News reached out to SSP but did not hear back by the publication deadline.

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