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UVic support staff serve notice of job action

Sep 01 2012
Job security is a major issue in labour talks between the University of Victoria and its unionized support staff. 

Job security is a major issue in labour talks between the University of Victoria and its unionized support staff.

Photograph by: Victoria Times Colonist , timescolonist.com

University of Victoria students will return to class next week as more than 1,300 cooks, plumbers, groundskeepers and other support staff begin job action.

Canadian Union of Public Employees Locals 951 and 917 served 72-hour strike notice on the university Friday. The notice came after the Labour Relations Board established minimum service levels in the event of a strike.

The countdown begins Sunday with workers in a position to take job action by 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Local 951 represents office, technical and child-care workers. Local 917 represents janitors, painters, carpenters, housekeepers, lifeguards, food service and other support staff.

The workers have been without a contract since 2010 and hope to put pressure on the school’s administration without inconveniencing the school’s 20,000 students, said Local 951 president Doug Sprenger. 

“It’s not a story where CUPE at UVic thinks that there’s a settlement [possible] by putting up a picket line and leaving it up for three weeks,” he said.

Job action could take the form of overtime bans, work-to-rule or rotating pickets.

Sprenger warned, however, that the unions may escalate actions as the university’s 50th-anniversary celebrations approach at the end of September.

“We would really like the university to come back to the bargaining table and negotiate an agreement so we don’t have to do anything that disrupts that whole homecoming week,” he said. 

The two sides are trying to negotiate a four-year deal.

The university 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.

University spokesman Bruce Kilpatrick said the unions have not responded to the school’s latest offer.

“We’ve always indicated we’re happy to meet with them,” Kilpatrick said. “We’re interested in hearing a counter-proposal. We’ve really heard nothing back on that.

“In fact, the unions formally asked the mediator to book out on Monday. So that’s where it becomes a conflicting signal.”

Kilpatrick said the university remains keen to get an agreement soon.

“We’ve got a lot of stuff to celebrate this year, and we need to be celebrating that together,” he said. 

The unions argue that one of the main stumbling blocks is the university’s refusal to consider improvements to job security.

Workers fear widespread layoffs in the face of government cutbacks, and want to make sure they can apply for other vacancies, receive retraining, or be eligible for enhanced severance payouts. They also want protection against inflation increases.

The university intends to remain open during job action, although some student services may be reduced or suspended.


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