Picketing employees greeted thousands of students returning to classes at the University of Victoria this week.
But the two unions currently undertaking job action say students won’t be impacted by the strike until Sept. 17 at the earliest.
“What would (the strike) look like from the week of the 17th on if the employer is not back at the bargaining table? The unions will have to start impacting buildings and services that would have an impact on students,” said Doug Sprenger, president of CUPE 951. “We really hope to avoid this, and we call on the employer to come back to the bargaining table.”
Wednesday (Sept. 5) was the first day CUPE 917 and 951 took job action. The two unions represent some 1,500 non-teaching jobs such as tradespeople, food service staff, childcare workers, and office and library staff, and have both been without contracts since March 31, 2010.
Members of CUPE 917 started picketing outside the Saunders building on campus at 9 a.m. Wednesday. CUPE 951 members didn’t picket, but that union instituted an overtime ban and work-to-rule policies.
Sprenger said there are no plans for a full strike during September, but noted the unions won’t share information about when and where job action will take place.
“We have to keep the employer guessing as to where and when the picket line will go up,” he said.
At issue for the unions is job security and inflation protection, Sprenger said.
“We’re very disappointed that after two years of collective bargaining not one issue of substance has been signed off. We feel that with the impending budget cuts, we have no other alternative than to take strike action to achieve our goal of a fair and reasonable settlement,” he said.
The university, in a press release on Tuesday, expressed “disappointment” that the unions were poised to take job action.
“While the two locals have spent the summer putting themselves in a legal position to take job action, they have yet to respond with a counter offer to the university’s settlement offer made nearly two and a half months ago,” UVic said.
“We are prepared to sit down at any time because that’s where an agreement is going to be reached,” said Bruce Kilpatrick, UVic’s director of communications.
“We’ve been planning for the possibility of job action for several months now. … I would never say that we have prepared for all eventualities, we’ve done good preparation and good planning, and depending on what job action is taken, we’re in a good position to respond.”
In late August, the unions and UVic went before the Labour Relations Board to negotiate essential service levels.
Among the issues of contention between the employer and the unions was staffing for residence food and custodial services. While food services weren’t deemed an essential service, the employment of one cleaning service worker is essential.
Neither of those will be impacted, however, until at least Sept. 17. Sprenger said classrooms, labs, the bookstore and UVic childcare will operate as normal for the time being.
Employees who could strike prior to Sept. 17, with no or little direct impact on students, include electricians, plumbers, grounds workers, painters, carpenters, auditorium staff, office and technical workers.
“I think it’s fair to say that any kind of job action has the potential to have an impact on students,” Kilpatrick said. “If nothing else, at the very least it would draw off people who would otherwise be doing things that would benefit students.”
The two other unions at the university – CUPE 4163 and the Professional Employees Association – support the job action.
“If there is a picket line outside your building, we are recommending that you show your support by not crossing. If you are in a position to do so, we are certain the strikers will appreciate you joining them on the line for some time,” said Greg Melnechuk, CUPE 4163 president, in a statement to his members.
“Solidarity as union members is our strength. The more effective the picket line – the greater the likelihood that it will be a shorter strike.”