The secretary who proved fetching coffee shouldn't be part of the daily grind

It seemed it was about more than a cup of coffee, even though that's what the dispute involved.

Arbitration ruling on grievance set precedent at York University in 1979

Coffee dispute heads for arbitration


42 years ago
The National reports on a workplace dispute involving a secretary who was asked to get coffee for her boss. 2:03

It seemed it was about more than a cup of coffee, even though that's what the dispute involved.

Just over four decades ago, a news story began brewing when a Toronto secretary refused to fetch coffee for the director of a university bookstore.

The secretary worked at a bookstore at York University — a school where staff had the right to file a grievance if asked to do work of a personal nature that was not connected to university operations.

Hence the grievance, which was filed and then pitted the secretary against the school, which backed the director in the grievance.

The union representing the secretary filed for arbitration.

'Tending to the personal needs of a boss'

YUSA president Lauma Avens said the case involving the coffee was another example of a worker being asked to do something they shouldn't be asked to do. (The National/CBC Archives)

Lauma Avens, the president of the York University Staff Association, pointed to the case as being one more example of workers being asked to do things they shouldn't be asked to do.

"Our members have been asked to balance personal chequebooks, have been asked to walk dogs, have been asked to buy wedding gifts for the spouse and that is not part of our jobs," Avens told The National back in January 1979.

"That's tending to the personal needs of a boss."

The National's John McQuaker reported the arbitration process could take three months to complete.

In October 1979, the Toronto Star reported a ruling had been made. York directors and supervisors would henceforth have to get their own coffee.

However, the paper also reported that the secretary had quit her position since the grievance had been filed.