CUPE president hoping to avoid strike

Devan C. Tasa, News Editor Ω

The president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), a labour union representing TRU’s support and teaching assistant staff, is hopeful job action won’t be necessary.

More than two-thirds of CUPE Local 4897’s 607 members participated in a strike vote conducted between Aug. 28 and Sept. 6. 83 per cent voted in favour of strike action.

The union is now able to apply to B.C.’s Labour Relations Board for a 72-hour strike notice that will put it in a legal position to take job action.

“Our goal is to not have to strike,” said Lois Rugg, CUPE 4897’s president. “Our goal is to actually be able to negotiate an agreement with the employer so that we won’t have to take any action, but if things were to fall apart, our membership has given us a strong mandate to take action.

“The goal is to absolutely bargain and if we don’t have to do anything we won’t, because we are here for the students,” she said.

The university and the union have been unable to make progress on a contract since the old one expired in 2010.

Since the strike vote, the university has been talking with the union to set up a meeting to negotiate.

“The key thing is that we are anxious to get back to the bargaining table and to negotiate a fair deal,” Rugg said. “So far it seems that’s going to happen, so we’re relatively optimistic that we’ll be able to have some good negotiations if all goes well.”

If there is a breakdown in negotiations, there could be job action as early as mid-October.

“Our goal is to work with the faculty association and the student union and so forth when possible to have a minimal effect on students,” Rugg said,  “but if we were to either go on strike or be locked out, obviously there would be some effect on students for sure.”

Job action doesn’t necessarily mean strike pickets in front of university buildings. At the University of Victoria, CUPE locals taking job action are refusing to take overtime work, giving out information and picketing only the administration buildings.

CUPE 4897 is concerned about wages and job security.

Because there hasn’t been any changes in pay to catch up with inflation and staff have to pay for parking like students, support staff has actually been earning less, Rugg said.

“It’s all meant a cut in pay over the last few years for us and at other institutions it’s the same situation,” she said.

As for job security, the union is concerned about a post-secondary review being done by the provincial government that could mean job cuts, as well as the university hiring more workers on a part-time, contract basis.