University of Victoria paint shop employees Len Ashmore (with paint sprayer) and Rob Barton (with ground glass) repaint crosswalk lines on Ring Road as they get the campus ready for the new school year. Unions representing UVic employees remain far apart from UVic management

UVic on path toward strike in September

Labour board to rule on essential services after negotiations fail

University of Victoria students may be greeted by picketing support staff when classes return in early September.

Last month, mediation between two unions – CUPEs 917 and 951 – and the university on essential service levels failed. Three days of hearings (Aug. 21, 22 and 24) have been set for both parties to plead their cases to the Labour Relations Board before it adjudicates essential services and staffing levels.

“(UVic) came with a long list of jobs they deemed essential,” said Doug Sprenger, president of CUPE 917. “I can’t be specific. Let’s just say our list of (essential jobs) was short, and their list was long.”

Kane Kilbey, UVic’s associate vice-president of human resources, said in a July 20 notice posted online: “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.”

The two CUPE unions, which represent some 1,500 non-teaching jobs such as tradespeople, food service staff, childcare workers, and office and library staff, are negotiating in concert with one another. They have both been without contracts since March 31, 2010.

Students won’t face disruptions in the classroom, but could find limited cafeteria or library services, depending on essential services levels set by the labour board.

Sprenger says they want to respect students’ education as much as possible, but noted they’ll be providing information to students in September on what to do when faced with a picket line.

“We think that students returning to the University of Victoria have a very strong interest in getting this labour dispute resolved, and feel it’s an important time to resolve it,” Sprenger said. “It’s a time when all eyes are on the university and students anyway, regardless of any disruptions.”

Loree Wilcox, CUPE national servicing rep, told the News last month the unions and UVic were “too far apart” for any negotiation progress to be made.

According to CUPE, there remain nine areas of dispute between the union and the employer, including job security, benefits and inflation protection.

Late last week, CUPE B.C. said in a press release, “The B.C. Liberals are (fast-tracking) a new plan to slash jobs and money from B.C.’s already hemorrhaging college and university budgets.”

CUPE says the province’s administrative service delivery transformation project could mean privatization of union jobs at post-secondary institutions.

“It appears the plan is to be implemented for the 2012-13 school year. What is not clear is exactly how many jobs are at stake,” the press release reads.

A spokesperson from the Ministry of Advanced Education who asked not to be identified wrote in an email that CUPE’s concerns are premature.

“Neither the government nor the institutions have any predetermined idea of how savings and improvements will be achieved,” the spokesperson wrote.

kslavin@saanichnews.com