Devan C. Tasa, News Editor Ω
Members of the university’s support staff union want a contract and they want it now.
That was the sentiment expressed through picket signs and chants during the first day of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 4879’s job action Oct. 4, which saw the facilities building and the Clock Tower blocked by picket lines and a rally take place on the Campus Commons.
The union has been working without a contract since 2010. It’s concerned about stagnant wages in the face of inflation and increased costs like parking as well as job security.
“Our goal was not to disrupt students and classes,” said Lois Rugg, the union’s president. “The goal in the end is to ultimately bargain a fair and reasonable collective agreement, one we can bring back to our membership for approval.”
With the job action, the union wants to send a message to the university’s administration. That message: bring something serious to the bargaining table at the next negotiation meeting Oct. 18 and 19, Rugg said.
The union has met the university 10 times during the past two and a half years, a union pamphlet indicated.
“TRU never left the bargaining table. We take this process very seriously,” said Christopher Seguin, TRU’s vice president advancement. “October the 18th was the earliest date the union could supply to meet with us and we look forward to that date.”
Rugg was unable to say when the next job action would take place or what form it would take. Job action can include wearing buttons, refusing overtime, picketing certain buildings or picketing the entire campus.
“It’s hard to say. It may also depend on what’s happening in the rest of the province,” Rugg said. “Other universities in the province may be supporting us and we may be supporting them and there may be some action as a result of that.”
Four other universities also faced job action from CUPE locals that day, which have similar grievances with their employers. Most of those locals chose job action that only closed down parts of their respective campuses, but the one at the University of Northern B.C. chose to close down the entire campus by picketing the only entrance.
Seguin didn’t say what the university would do in the event of more job action, but he said it would work to ensure there’s a minimal effect on students.
There were around 120 people attending the rally, including members from the TRU Faculty Association (TRUFA), TRUSU and local Steelworkers from outside campus.
“As students, we know that the decision to take strike action is never an easy one,” Dustin McIntyre, TRUSU’s president told the rally. “It’s not easy for you or your family and it’s certainly not easy for our members. But at a certain point, we know that you’re left with no other option.
“TRUSU looks forward to working with you in the coming days, weeks and months to ensure that CUPE members are successful in this fight.”
Jason Brown, the president of the professors’ union, TRUFA, told the rally that now was a time to stand together.
“There’s no doubt the [provincial] government is making it difficult for all universities and public post-secondary unions,” Brown said, “but if we don’t take a stand, things are going to change and they’re not going to change for the better.”
If a student or faculty member encounters a picket line, it’s a personal choice whether or not that person is willing to cross, as the picketers have no right to stop somebody from crossing.
TRUFA is asking their members to not cross. The professors’ contract indicates they can do so without consequence, but they would have to forfeit their pay for that day. It’s TRUFA’s policy to provide those same professors with some compensation from its strike fund, as long as they contribute in some manner to the strike.
Updates on the situation can be found on both TRU’s and TRUSU’s websites.