Union members rally on the University of Saskatchewan campus March 9.
The University of Saskatchewan’s centennial year may go down in history as the worst on record for campus labour relations.
Four different unions are involved in increasingly contentious negotiations with the university’s administration for new contracts to cover faculty, sessional lecturers, support staff and other university workers.
The U of S Faculty Association, which represents 1,000 full-time faculty, librarians and research scientists, has been without a contract for almost two years.
“This has been one of the stormiest rounds of bargaining ever for faculty,” said Tim Quigley, chief negotiator for the faculty association.
Hundreds of faculty members attended a special membership meeting March 3 where a strike vote was on the table, but the vote was delayed pending eleventh-hour progress at the negotiating table.
“Negotiations are always about compromise. That’s what we’ve started to finally see from the employer,” faculty association chair Tracy Marchant told the assembly.
According to Marchant, priority issues at the faculty bargaining table are salary grid reform, workload, equity and university governance.
Meanwhile, the six hundred sessional lecturers represented by CUPE Local 3287 voted 78 per cent in favour of strike action in a ballot last month. A contract for the sessional union expired in August 2005 and negotiations between the local and the university so far haven’t resulted in a new contract. The group is among the lowest paid in western Canada and is seeking wage parity with the University of Regina.
The contract with the administrative, professional and technical staff association ended in April 2005, while the contract with the 2,400 support workers represented by CUPE 1975 expired Dec. 30, 2006. According to union updates, unresolved issues are largely monetary.
Marchant said all unions are criticizing the administration for citing financial straits as a reason to be stingy, while simultaneously giving a substantial salary increase to senior university officials, including some wage hikes in excess of 25 per cent last year alone.
“After seeing some of these stats, people on campus no longer believe the employer’s claim there was a structural deficit at the U of S,” Marchant said.
The university is hosting Congress 2007 and several homecoming events as part of its centennial year celebrations — all possible targets for job action by one or more of the unions on campus, Marchant said.
“It’s surprising really that the board of governors would start our centennial year without concluding contract negotiations with the unions,” she added.