University and union seal deal

University of Calgary support staff ratified a tentative bargaining agreement last week, prompting hope that months of contract negotiations with the university may finally be at an end.

The agreement offers 3.5 per cent wage increases for each of the next three years, as well as increases to employees’ health and wellness benefits.

“If you take a look at the entire contract, we believe it’s a pretty good package,” said Alberta Union of Provincial Employees Local 52 bargaining team chair Keith Gill. “Although, we felt it took too long.”

Gill mentioned that the wage increases are lower than at most comparable institutions, but stressed increases in previous agreements put U of C support staff on par with their colleagues elsewhere. The primary objectives of the union were increased pay and job security, especially in light of the recent contracting out of Food Services to Chartwells.

AUPE Local 52 chair Shirley Maki said the regular pay increases, increases to shift-differential pay and a new health and wellness benefit counterbalance decreases in incremental pay raises. Incremental raises occur based on length of service. Maki also said language in the agreement had been strengthened to ensure the university consults with the union on any future contracting-out processes.

“We do not have language that says: ‘Thou shalt not contract out,'” said Maki. “We would have liked that, but they have to talk to us now.”

Bargaining with the U of C broke down in December, when the university pulled out of negotiations to seek mediation. The union protested the university’s withdrawal from negotiations by rallying outside of the December Board of Governors meeting. Maki said the protest was likely successful in getting the university back to the table.

“It could have been a coincidence,” said Maki. “But it was rather convenient that shortly after that we had mediation dates.”

Both sides described the mediation process as more of a facilitation, with the government appointed mediator assisting in renewed negotiations rather than imposing a solution.

“Both parties bargained late into the night and we got an agreement with the help of the mediator,” said university chief negotiator Mike Kozielec, noting the agreement must now pass the U of C Personnel Planning Committee and the Board of Governors before it is finalized. Gill and Maki are confident the agreement will pass.

“They know it was a close vote [by the union],” said Gill. “They know if they turn it down they’re going to have a very unhappy workforce.”

Support staff voted 54 per cent in favour of the contract Fri., Mar. 3, although less than half of U of C’s approximate 2,900 AUPE members participated.

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