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Campus union poised for strike following vote

Thursday, June 24, 2010

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Written by Greg Beneteau

The union representing trades, maintenance and service workers at the University of Guelph has voted to go into a legal strike position, following a snag in negotiations.

The 250 members of CUPE Local 1334 were eligible to cast ballots at noon and 5 p.m. Thursday. Another vote was planned for 2:30 a.m. Friday morning to ensure all three work shifts have a chance to participate, said .

According to a press release issued early Friday morning, 93 per cent voted in favour of going on strike.

If planned conciliation conciliation talks  fail, the union could be in a strike position in as little as four weeks. That could have an impact on services on campus, from the upkeep of residence rooms to the collection of garbage, said Janice Folk-Dawson, President of CUPE Local 1334

“Our members are in contact with students on this campus from the time they get up in the morning to the time the go to bed,” Folk-Dawson said.

The local has been without a collective bargaining agreement since the end of April.

Dawson said the two parties met at the beginning of May and “presented full packages, including financial proposals.”

She denied the two sides were at an “impasse” but said there were areas where “more discussion” was necessary to bring the two sides closer together.

Questions about negotiations on the university side were directed to Marth Harley, Assistant Vice-President (Human Resources), who could not be reached for comment.

The University has since filed for conciliation, where a third party attempts to mediate disputes between the two sides. However, the mediator’s recommendations are non-binding.

Reached by email, Denise Martins, External Affairs Commissioner for the Central Student Association, said it was "unfortunate" for conciliation talks to happen so early, "as I believe that bargaining is a serious matter that should never be rushed."

The CSA has policies in place in the event of a labour dispute, Martins pointed out. These call for the CSA to "make public their support workers," ensure students are supported during a stike, and "respect picket lines where it is possible."

Folk-Dawson called pensions the “number one” issue for her bargaining unit.

As a result of hits to pension investments from the recession, the University no longer has the amount necessary to sustain the pensions of every worker if the institution became insolvent, she said.

Dawson accused the University of squandering pension surpluses and relying on high-risk investments for the pension fund, saying her members would not be held responsible for the “mismanagement” of their nest eggs or accept rolebacks in pension payouts.

She also claimed the University expected workers to accept a freeze on salaries, similar to wage restraint legislation recently adopted by the Ontario Legislature.

The Public Sector Compensation Restraint to Protect Public Services Act, which passed second reading in May, places a freeze on compensation and benefits for employees working at many public institutions in Ontario, including universities and colleges, hospitals, school boards, and public corporations like Hydro One. It also applies to non-profit employers that receive more than $1 million in funding from the province.

The legislation does not apply to collective bargaining units, however – and Dawson said her workers can’t handle a wage freeze.

She compared her own salary of $40,000 to that of President Alastair Summerlee, who made $434,000 last year.

“If anyone needs to make concessions, I think we should start looking there,” she said.

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  1. Posted by: GavinA on Jun 29, 2010 @ 11:41am

    This article is correct in saying that the ‘Public Sector Compensation Restraint to Protect Public Services Act’ does not apply to collective bargaining units, however if one reads the budget which was released earlier this spring the provincial government has indicated that they “urge” public sector institutions to apply this legislator across the board, including collective bargaining units. If an institution chooses to ignore this and increase compensation, that institution will loose that increase in provincial grant funding – funding which is critical to operate and CRITICAL for students. This funding cut would be seen in all over the grid, from student support to the overall quality of education. More programs would be cut and more staff’s livelihoods would be at risk. I understand the position and opinion of CUPE, but as a student who will be affected by the reduction in these provincial grants, I have no choice but to be against a strike.

    In this time of financial difficulty members of the university community are all feeling the squeeze: salaries are frozen, class sizes are growing, student support is at risk, and the pensions are not up to provincial standard. I think fighting each other will accomplish nothing, and with the looming pension crisis things could get much, much worse for every single one of us. Simply blaming the administration wont make this go away, as almost every University is in a similar situation. We should work together and lobby the government to support post-secondary education before it’s to late.

  2. Posted by: denise on Jun 29, 2010 @ 1:48pm

    In this time of financial difficulty, I don't think anyone is in favour of a strike. However, workers on our campus have entrusted their union with the ability to decide when it is best to use the strike card.

    I think pointing out that Alistair Summerlee's bonus alone is well over what most workers on our campus get paid is not 'simply blaming the administration'. It's pointing out that in this time of financial difficulty, we need to get our priorities straight.

    I agree we should be lobbying the government but we can definitely do both. I mean, we can't just simply overlook the budget that runs this institution and accept 40k bonuses or 300k salaries when workers on our campus feel so desperate in need of change that they voted so overwhelmingly in favour of a strike should the bargaining process deem it necessary.

  3. Posted by: GavinA on Jun 29, 2010 @ 2:24pm

    I agree that if someone is going to be making that kind of money, they better be doing something to better the institution and not put us in a worse state. Because this is going to be a huge issue I just wanted to be sure the facts are correct... noone in the past 2 years received a bonus or pay increase, and because of the provincial act noone can receive a bonus or pay increase in the next 2 years.

    The government was so clear they even explicitly stated a bonus cannot come in any other form (vacation days etc) and you cannot bank a "bonus" for when the 2 years is up.

    I think you can opt for a pay decrease however.

    I want to be clear that I am not defending anyone.. and if anyone wants to hold the admin accountable for their salaries their are ways of doing so. Rumor mills are pod-cast and have a very large following. I Just think that Guelphs $300M pension issue is incredibly daunting, and should be tackled by all levels of our community.

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