Union lays complaint over strike
Just when University of Saskatchewan administrators thought campus life was returning to normal in the aftermath of a month-long strike, the union involved is complaining of unfair labour practices.
“I’m surprised that this has been filed. Our efforts have been very focused on enhancing our labour relations with CUPE since the strike,” said Barb Daigle, U of S associate vice-president of human resources.
On Friday, the Canadian Union of Public Employees issued a news release to say it had filed three unfair labour practice complaints with the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board. That was news to Daigle, who learned of the union’s move from reporters.
“Every day this week, almost, we’ve had very positive, constructive problem-solving meetings with them about the normal sorts of labour issues across campus,” she said.
CUPE Local 1975 bargaining chair Brad McKaig doesn’t see labour relations quite the same way. “It’s tolerable,” he said. “They would like very much to have the public believe that everything is warm and fuzzy and all coming up daisies. But it’s not that way at all.”
All three complaints to the labour relations board stem from the dispute in November when 1,800 support workers, members of CUPE Local 1975, hit the picket line. They and another 600 unionized employees at the University of Regina walked off the job over two main issues — wage increments tied to performance reviews and employer contributions paid to the benefits plan. The union leaders held off filing the complaints until now because they didn’t want to jeopardize the payment of $1,000 retention bonuses to their members, says McKaig. In addition, employees received back pay of about $2,500.
“We believe that most of the members, if not all, have received it now,” he said.
“We weren’t sure that if we did this prior to now that (the university) wouldn’t withhold that from our members.”
The union is accusing the university’s chief negotiator of threatening to refuse to take a tentative agreement to the U of S board of governors in December if a union representative participated in a news conference where faculty, staff and students called for an external review of labour relations.
Daigle wouldn’t comment on the accusation, saying she has received no information from the union.
CUPE also criticizes the university for how it handled communications during the strike. On one hand, it says the university tried to monitor and limit the union’s communications with its members. On the other hand, CUPE accuses the university of communicating directly to union members in an attempt to undermine the union.
For example, McKaig says the university went directly to employees when it posted a contract offer on the university website.
“Knowing that it was an unfair labour practice, knowing that it would have the affect that it did, they opted to do that as a bargaining tactic,” he said.
At the time, the union held off filing a complaint because the union would not have been in a legal strike position if the matter was before the labour relations board, says McKaig.
Then and now, Daigle said she believes posting the contract offer was appropriate.
“The university has the right and responsibility to clarify its bargaining position,” she said.
Daigle is waiting to receive copies of the documents filed with the labour board. She expects representatives from the university and union to work at solving the issues without having to go to a hearing.
But McKaig sees a formal hearing as inevitable. No date has been set for such a meeting.