After an extensive negotiation period with the university, the Physical Resources workers of Wilfrid Laurier University are going on strike. The strike began as of the morning of July 10.
The strike follows a series of unsuccessful negotiations dating back to October 2015 between Laurier and division 926 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents 110 employees at Laurier, including custodial, grounds and trades employees . At the core of the discussions is the uncertain future of custodians, with the university proposing an amendment to the collective agreement which would allow for contracting out of jobs for custodial work. Laurier has stated that the contracting would be used to address growth and would not result in lay-offs on the 67 custodians currently employed.
CUPE 926 president Allan Savard told Imprint that the union would be open to contract employments if it meant that the custodians' job security would be guaranteed, but expressed doubt that the university would keep their word. "They [Laurier] guarantee us that none of our members will lose our jobs, only though attrition. We said 'OK, fine, we can understand that. Put that in writing.' They won't do that. You're telling us you're not getting rid of anybody, but you won't put it down on a piece of paper."
Savard also took issue with the fact that the contract workers were being paid considerably less than the custodians for their work.
"Our big problem with contractors is that they're paying them $12.90 an hour," Savard said. "We don't believe that a university should be bringing in such low wages, especially when it's a funded institution. It's just not right."
The university maintains that the contracting out alternative was made necessary after the custodians refused alternative proposals such as changes to shift flexibility and removing the cap on the number of custodians that could be working at a time. For their part, CUPE has stated that the current custodial staff is understaffed as it is, and in their negotiations they have sought to create more positions for custodians, though the university has prioritized reducing costs for custodial services.
The previous collective agreement ended June 30, 2015, which was followed by 12 meetings between CUPE 926 and the WLU administration between October 2015 and June 2016. Several approaches were used to attempt resolution, including a five-day conciliation period and filing for a no board report, which allowed the union legal right to strike as of July 10. Two mediation sessions were held on July 4 and 8 between the parties, but were unsuccessful. On the final mediation session, CUPE proposed a binding arbitration, in which the Department of Labour (an unaffiliated third-party) would make a judgment on which proposal to implement and both sides would be required to adhere to the ruling. The university declined to take the matter to arbitration.
With little progress being made through negotiation, the strike began July 10 at 8 a.m.
While CUPE 926 is on strike, Laurier has noted it will not be conducting a lockout, and any of CUPE's members who wish to continue their work can do so.
At the time of writing, the Wilfrid Laurier administration was not available for comment.