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University support workers prepare for strike action

Strike action could shut down Vancouver Island University today (Nov. 20).

By press time Monday, the university’s nearly 300 support staff were on track to join workers at several other institutions in an all-campus walkout Tuesday and Wednesday, but labour action could be called off if the provincial government is willing to enter talks with the union, said Deborah Hopper, president of CUPE Local 1858.

“We’re asking for the government to talk to us,” she said. “The work with the mediator went well … but the government is required to sign off on the proposal. The real sticking point is that the government will not respond.”

Hopper said the union did not hear from the province over the weekend as anticipated, but she was still hoping for some progress by the end of the day yesterday.

“The university is keeping very up-to-date information for students on their website,” she said.

If the walkout takes place, support workers will be back to work Thursday and will reassess the situation at that time, Hopper said.

The other unions representing VIU workers have informed CUPE that they will honour picket lines, she added.

Fred Jacklin, VIU’s registrar and director of enrolment services, confirmed that classes will be cancelled today and possibly tomorrow if picket lines are up.

“It’s starting to look more possible,” he said, adding that the strike, if it happens, would affect all campus locations.

Secondary sites like the Deep Bay Marine Field Station and Milner Gardens would not be affected.

Jacklin said public sector negotiations are complicated, involve many parties and the university is still actively and earnestly working with CUPE to achieve a new collective agreement.

He expected an update on the situation to be available Monday afternoon after press time.

The university’s support workers, which include food services, clerical and maintenance staff, have been without a contract for more than two years and on Oct. 30, support staff voted 86 per cent in favour of job action.

If the strike happens today, it will be the second time in recent years that classes are disrupted – a month-long faculty association strike shut down the university in the spring of 2011.

Hopper said CUPE workers are concerned about the impact job action will have on students, but members feel the province has backed them into a corner.

The other institutions that could set up picket lines today are Camosun College, North Island College, College of the Rockies and College of New Caledonia.

For up-to-date information, please visit www.viu.ca/labourupdate, or the News Bulletin’s website at www.nanaimobulletin.com.

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