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UVic support staff poised for strike

Aug 17 2012

The University of Victoria could face job action this fall by more than 1,300 support staff who work in the library, prepare food, provide child care and look after the grounds.

The employees, who have been without a contract since March 31, 2010, served strike notice on June 25. They are gearing up for possible work disruptions as students return to class in September.

CUPE Locals 951 and 917 are slated to appear before the Labour Relations Board next week to determine minimum staffing levels in the event of a strike. Local 951 represents about 850 office, technical and childcare workers, while Local 917 represents about 500 tradespeople, groundskeepers, security officers and food services workers.

Both received strong strike mandates from members in May.

Once the labour board rules on essential services, the unions will have to serve 72-hour strike notice to keep their strike votes alive, said Local 951 president Doug Sprenger.

"We're now in the position where students are coming back and we're going to have to contemplate things [such as] an overtime ban or worktorule," he said.

Rotating pickets could also be necessary to get the university back to the bargaining table, he said.

CUPE wants to put pressure on the administration without harming students, Sprenger said, and is working to put agreements in place so that students will continue to receive their loan money and retired employees will continue to get their pensions.

After working with a mediator, the two sides are trying to hammer out a four-year deal that will date back to 2010 and expire in 2014.

The university has offered no increase in the first two years, as required under the B.C. government's net-zero mandate.

Employees would get a 2.0 per cent hike in the third year beginning July 1, 2012, and a 1.5 per cent hike on April 1, 2013.

"We've certainly made it clear that we believe that our employees deserve a modest wage increase in keeping with the times and in keeping with what the university can afford," said UVic spokesman Bruce Kilpatrick.

Sprenger, however, said the university refuses to consider improvements to job security, which remains a top priority for his members.

The union fears widespread job losses in light of Finance Minister Kevin Falcon's announcement in February that colleges and universities would have to find $70 million in administrative savings in fiscal years 2013-14 and 2014-15.

CUPE claims the government is fast-tracking that process and intends to find the savings by cutting jobs and privatizing services.

The government issued a statement this week saying nothing has been decided.

"Neither the government nor the institutions have any predetermined idea of how savings and improvements will be achieved," the statement said.

Despite the denial, the unions want to make sure that anyone who receives a layoff notice can apply for other vacancies or re-training, Sprenger said. Failing that, the employees should get enhanced severance, the unions say.

UVic counters that it already has strong job security language.

"The university has not put a proposal on the table that would change that," Kilpatrick said.

He said the university remains optimistic that a strike can be averted.

"We're certainly hopeful that we can reach an agreement without a major disruption."

The university plans to post regular updates on the labour situation at uvic.ca/info/jobaction. The website is expected to be up and running by Monday.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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