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UVic CUPE staff ready for strike Wednesday

Sep 04 2012

When University of Victoria students sit down for their first classes Wednesday, picket signs will be going up as about 1,300 support staff — working in the university's library, cafeteria, dining rooms, weight rooms and more — begin job action.

Canadian Union of Public Employees Locals 951 and 917 served 72-hour strike notice Friday. They are in a strike position as of 8 a.m. Wednesday. The notice came after the Labour Relations Board established minimum-service levels in the event of a strike.

"We're disappointed that they have chosen to escalate this to job action," university spokesman Bruce Kilpatrick said Monday.

The job action could include overtime bans, work-to-rule, pickets or rotating strikes.

Bachelor of education student Rhonda Stark feels caught in the middle. The married mother of two children doesn't know what form the job action will take or how it might affect her or the university's other 20,000 students. At the same time she hopes to be hired into a unionized job and wants to support the union. "It's definitely difficult."

Doug Sprenger, president of Local 951 — representing office, technical and childcare workers — said his local plans overtime bans, both paid and unpaid.

Rob Park, president of Local 917 — representing janitors, painters, carpenters, housekeepers, lifeguards, food service and other support staff— said his local will erect pickets Wednesday. He can't yet reveal the location or time.

"If there is a picket line, all union members are expected to withdraw their services for the day," Sprenger said.

The CUPE workers have been without a contract since 2010.

Union officials say classrooms, labs and child-care services will not be picketed. "We'd like to have maximum impact on administration and minimum impact on students," Sprenger said.

Also, the union locals will not picket the bookstore in its first week, for example, Sprenger said.

There will also be no pickets at the University Club, the Graduate Students' Society nor University of Victoria Students' Society buildings, which all have different employers.

"We have no fight with them whatsoever," said Park. However, where the university is the employer, "any services could be withdrawn," Park said.

"The intent is to negotiate a deal, and this is the most extreme thing we can do, legally, to move us to a deal," Park said. "If the employer refuses to return to the bargaining table, we might have to start to look at other buildings that would involve classrooms and labs."

In contract talks, the university has offered no pay increase in the first two years, as required under the B.C. government's net-zero mandate. Employees would get a two per cent hike in the third year retroactive to July 1, 2012, and a 1.5 per cent hike on April 1, 2013.

"The university has not received a response or counter-proposal to the offer it made two-and-a-half months ago," on June 22, said Kilpatrick. The union maintains it responded at length, verbally, stating its proposal of June 7 stands. That proposal asked for protection against inflation increases and improved job security to ensure laid-off workers can apply for other vacancies, receive retraining or be eligible for enhanced severance payouts.

"We feel the government is controlling our employers' ability to negotiate a fair and reasonable settlement," Sprenger said.

"It's the most protracted, adversarial round of bargaining that we've experienced."

About 1,000 printed picket signs were assembled Monday. They promote the union's main bargaining issues: inflation protection and job-security improvements.

The university argues its proposed wage increases largely cover inflation. Also, the contract already provides strong job security, Kilpatrick said.

Among support staff, UVic has about 150 management-excluded employees and 70 to 80 positions that have been deemed essential services, Kilpatrick said.

UVic administration will post updates on the job action at the website uvic.ca/info/jobaction

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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