While University of Saskatchewan supporters and alumni gathered at the future Prince Albert campus to discuss the building’s future Wednesday evening, representatives from CUPE picketed outside, eager to spread their message as contract talks between the two sides continue.
The picketers were campaigning in support of CUPE Local 1975, which has a “strong strike mandate” from its members in its negotiations with the university, the union said in a media release.
Activists handed out information about the labour dispute and spoke to attendees about issues facing the local.
“The University of Saskatchewan is pushing a three-year wage freeze, and wants to dismantle the local secure Defined Benefit Pension Plan and replace it with either a Defined Contribution or Target Benefit Plan,” the press release said.
“CUPE Local 1975 … will be in a legal strike position upon the conclusion of a labour board hearing on essential services.”
CUPE represents about 2,000 workers at the university who are employed in food services, technician services, trades, security, clerical support, library services, groundskeeping and landscaping, caretaking and more.
They caught the attention of at least one alumnus, who expressed concern about what the university has brought to the table.
“As an alumnus of the University o Saskatchewan, I really benefitted from the workers and staff at the university providing a safe and secure environment for us,” said Terra Lennox-Zepp.
“I am concerned about the direction that the university is moving at this current time in regards to their staff. I’m concerned about the university attacking … pensions. That staff relies upon pensions they understand they currently have. This will impact our Prince Albert university campus, as these workers will be working here. We expect our university to treat the works with dignity and respect. If the university wants to make changes to a pension plan, they really need to do it at the bargaining table and to bargain with the workers.”
In a written statement, the university responded to some of the union’s concerns.
“The university recently made an offer to settle, which CUPE 1975 rejected without letting its members vote,” the university wrote.
‘We believe the latest offer to settle enhances this collective agreement, and we are committed to concluding negotiations and reaching a new collective agreement.”
According to their statement, the university offered a $3,000 signing bonus in lieu of retro pay, two per cent wage increases in 2019 and 2020 in addition to the existing automatic two per cent annual increase, an increased flexible spending account, additional days off at Christmas and access to more vacation after fewer years of service.
“For more than a decade we have been presenting pension alternatives to CUPE 1975 and it’s clear that we’ve reached an impasse on this subject. Since 2008, the CUPE 1975 pension has required more than $30 million in additional funding from the university which has been diverted away from the university’s core teaching and research mission,” the written statement said.
“The university remains committed to ensuring that all of its employees receive a fair and reasonable pension that is both competitive and financially sustainable for the university.”
The essential services tribunal is scheduled until June 14. Neither the university nor the union can serve action of job action or a lockout until the dispute regarding essential services has been resolved.