Labour tensions flare on Sask University campuses

Support workers at the University of Saskatchewan have been without a collective agreement since December 31, 2015. The long bargaining process between the University and the workers, represented by Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 1975, has focused on two main issues: pensions and wages.

CUPE 1975 is fighting to keep their defined benefits plan, while the University hopes to cut costs by offering alternative plans which sacrifice reliability for affordability. The union is also looking for wage increases of 2 per cent for each of the five years of the agreement being bargained for.

“The pension proposals are said to be competitive and reflect […] the University’s stated goals to recognize the outstanding contributions of our employees. Yet, the University is pushing a pension plan that comes far short from an industry standard and is furthermore threatening a labour disruption to accomplish this goal,” said CUPE 1975 president Craig Hannah at a press conference.

The Administrative and Supervisory Personnel Association (APSA), another union on campus, has urged members not to scab for CUPE 1975 workers if a strike occurs. The University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union executive declared its opposition to a strike in a statement in February.

Further south, a new collective agreement was reached in April between the University of Regina and the University of Regina Faculty Association (URFA). The University briefly hired a high-profile image rehabilitation company, NATIONAL Public Relations, during negotiations. Bargaining not only included monetary issues, such as pay and pensions, but also particulars around the division of staff being dedicated to research versus teaching, and compensation structures for sessional lecturers.

Jack Thompson is a freelance journalist based in Saskatoon, Treaty 6 territory and the Homeland of the M├ętis. You can follow him on Twitter at @thompsonxjack.