CUPE university support workers across BC had a clear message for their employers today – let’s make a deal. The 12,000 workers took job action after more than two years of contract talks without any settlements.
Workers at BC’s five largest universities walked off the job today in actions ranging from overtime bans to rallies, marches, picket lines and a full fledged shutdown at UNBC in Prince George. Job actions started after CUPE locals at the University of Northern BC, Simon Fraser, UBC and Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops all filed 72-hour strike notice on Monday. Locals at UVic have been carrying out job actions since Sept. 4. Organizers reported that few people chose to cross their picket lines.
CUPE BC president Barry O’Neill told a midday crowd of CUPE 116 workers gathered at UBC that the union will back them “for as long as it takes” to get a deal. He called on the provincial government to stop cutting post secondary funding and to recognize the value of the work done by CUPE members at colleges and universities. CUPE 116 president Colleen Garbe called for an end to post secondary underfunding. CUPE 116 trades and services workers shutdown the UBC Student Union Building and took out the Plant Operations building. They were joined at a rally by supporters from CUPE 2278 and CUPE 2950 as well as striking COPE 378 security workers.
At UNBC 340 members of CUPE local 3799 were on hand to shut down the entire campus with pickets at the main entrance starting at 1 pm this afternoon. CUPE 3799 president Caroline Sewell said support was good from the faculty association and other unions including ICBC workers and City of Prince George workers. Sewell says she is unsure of the extent of the shutdown inside “because we were out here and we didn’t block people from entering or leaving the campus.” She says morale was high on the picket line “as were hopes that this will help get us back to the table.” Sewell adds that if there are no moves from the university the local will consider its options for more job action next week.
At SFU the strike started at a one minute after 12 noon with two buildings being shut down. Members launched a silent protest outside convocation. CUPE 3338 members wearing placards turned their backs on the university in a protest designed to get the message across without disrupting the convocation exercises. CUPE 3338 president Lynne Fowler says the action was well received and “people really got the message that SFU needs to ‘engage’ with its CUPE support staff and that we want the university to get to the table with a mandate to negotiate a deal.”
Thompson Rivers CUPE staff closed down their facilities building this morning then headed to the central Clocktower admin building to gather more CUPE 4879 members for a march and rally. CUPE 4879 president Lois Rugg said her members were “pumped.” Rugg says they “pulled about 70 members off the job and at least 200 took part in the noisy march and rally that followed.” She added that there was strong support from groups like the faculty association and the student union as well as other local Kamloops unions. “Our members haven’t felt like they have been taken seriously – some are living paycheque to paycheque,” says Rugg. “I think the university got our message she adds, “the most frequently heard comment from our members was ‘it’s about time!'”
Picket lines of about 200 CUPE 917 and CUPE 951 members at the University Centre building at UVic wound down this afternoon after news of the employer suggesting more bargaining dates next week. CUPE 4163, which represents teaching assistants and sessionals was on hand all day with support pickets.