Despite having issued 72-hour strike notice Monday, picketing members of two CUPE unions at the University of Victoria likely won’t walk off the job until late July at the earliest.
“We will be entering immediately into essential services talks, so there won’t be any action until the essential services are resolved,” said Loree Wilcox, CUPE national servicing rep. “That will probably take the better part of July.”
Locals 917 and 951, which represent 1,500-or-so non teaching jobs such as tradespeople, food service staff, childcare workers, and office and library staff, have been without contracts since March 31, 2010.
Wilcox said the unions and the employer were “too far apart” for the mediator to do any mediating, and that Monday was the right time to issue the strike notice.
“It was going to be a long, drawn-out summer, and the discussions around essential services needs to happen. We thought it would be a wise idea to get them done with,” she said.
Both sides already agreed this week that essential services are applicable, as the Labour Relations Board (LRB) ruled in 2003 that the university operation is an essential service.
Wilcox says the unions and UVic will go through talks to negotiate essential service levels. If they can’t come to an agreement on those levels, it will go to the LRB.
“Once that’s done, the locals will decide from there where they need to go. If that means taking some action, there may be some action,” Wilcox said.
“While the (essential service) process is underway, the unions cannot legally initiate a strike or any other job action. Once essential services are finally settled, the unions may initiate job action anytime after another 48 hours has elapsed,” wrote Kane Kilbey, UVic’s associate vice-president of human resources in a bulletin Monday. “It continues to be the university’s desire to reach a negotiated settlement at the earliest possible opportunity. We remain hopeful that this can be achieved without a major disruption.”
During negotiations last Thursday and Friday (June 21 and 22), UVic presented an offer that included a two-per-cent wage increase effective July 1, 2012, and a 1.5-per-cent increase on April 1, 2013.
“We believe this is a strong offer in light of our current fiscal circumstances,” Kilbey wrote.
Wilcox responded, saying the negotiations aren’t only about money, but added it’s “a good starting point.”
A release posted to CUPE 951’s website Monday lists nine areas of dispute between the union and employer, including job security, benefits and inflation protection.
“We have to keep the pressure up. And if the pressure itself doesn’t culminate in a deal, then the locals … will take whatever actions needed to get the deal done,” Wilcox said. “It’s been too long, and it needs to be settled.”
The Professional Employees Association is also in ongoing collective agreement negotiations with the university. A release from that union’s labour relations officer says it supports the CUPE locals and will be “closely watching as the job action unfolds.”