VIU support staff set for strike vote

NANAIMO – The threat of job action is looming once again at Vancouver Island University.

The threat of job action is looming once again at Vancouver Island University.

Support staff at the institution will hold a strike vote Tuesday (Oct. 30) and if workers are in favour of job action, the union could then serve a 72-hour notice to launch job action, which can mean anything from an overtime ban to rotating picket lines to a campus-wide strike.

Support staff at the College of the Rockies and Vancouver Community College held a similar vote on Thursday.

If the VIU workers end up on strike, it would 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.

Stalled talks with the province have prompted the union to this action, said Ian McLean, B.C. colleges coordinator for the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

Support workers at VIU have been without a contract for more than two years. About 260 CUPE workers are employed by the university in building maintenance, clerical support, the bookstore, food services and other support positions.

Bargaining with the university has been a respectful process and the union has proposed a settlement package that falls within the government’s mandate and is in line with what CUPE workers at other institutions have already received, said McLean.

He said the problem is that VIU needs the approval of the Post Secondary Employers’ Association, but the association hasn’t given the institution the authority to conclude bargaining.

“We’re not asking for anything that is out of the ordinary,” said McLean. “The last thing our members want to do is withdraw their services. They went through a long strike last year. We can’t believe we’re even having to go down this path.”

Steve Beasley, executive director of the VIU Students’ Union, said his union hopes the parties will conclude negotiations without any disruptions to students, but wants to remind people that the vote does not mean job action is a certainty.

“It’s far too early to speculate about what will happen,” he said. “This is an issue that transcends VIU. It’s not an issue with the employer, it’s an issue with government.”

Dan Hurley, VIU spokesman, said in an e-mailed response that the university is aware of the strike vote and respects CUPE’s decision. He said the university remains committed to working with the union’s bargaining team to reach a fair, negotiated settlement. As negotiations are ongoing, the institution is unable to comment further.

Matt Gordon, PSEA spokesman, said in an e-mailed response that the strike vote is a normal part of the bargaining process, but the association is hopeful negotiations will lead to an agreement.

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