Waterloo Region Record
By Brent Davis
WATERLOO — With a strike or lockout deadline looming next week, Wilfrid Laurier University officials and the union representing the school’s custodial, trades and groundskeeping workers were in mediated talks Monday.
Members of Local 926 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees have been without a contract for more than a year. There are approximately 100 employees represented, with about two-thirds of them custodial staff.
The key sticking point remains the proposed contracting out of work to third-party, non-union custodial workers.
Union officials see this as a direct threat to job security, setting the stage for the loss of loyal, dedicated university employees.
“It’s one of the most drastic, draconian tactics an employer could ever use,” said CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn, who was in Waterloo Monday lending his support to members.
University administrators say no current unionized staff would be laid off as a result of contracting out, a move they say is necessary in an effort to offset “unsustainable” costs.
“The universities are not flush with cash,” said Laurier’s vice-president of finance and administration, Jim Butler. “We’re struggling trying to keep our costs down.”
Butler said the university stands to save about $300,000 a year if its proposal is adopted. The move would allow the university to contract out work to replace unionized employees who retire or leave voluntarily or if new positions open up, Butler said.
Hahn said the move would introduce lower-paid, low-security jobs into the community.
“This is something that actually makes no sense,” he said. “(The university is) trying to destabilize a core group of its employees.”
Last week, the university requested what’s known as a no board report, which would legally allow for a strike or lockout as of next Sunday. Butler said the university does not intend to lock out the workers.
Another day of mediated talks is scheduled for Friday.
“I’m hopeful that a resolution is reached at the bargaining table,” said Kitchener-Waterloo MPP Catherine Fife.
Fife called a trend of publicly-funded post-secondary institutions looking to contract out jobs “worrisome” and “disturbing.
“It would be very unfortunate for our community to lose those good jobs,” she said. Contracted jobs “do not pay as much, they do not have job security, and they are more precarious in nature.”
Another proposed contract change would see union retirees being required to pay 15 per cent of their benefit costs each month.
Butler said that’s a move that’s been agreed to by the other unions at the university.
“Postretirement benefits, first of all, are not common and they are expensive,” he said. “CUPE’s just catching up to what the other unions have agreed to.”
Hahn said he wants to ensure employees “retire in dignity and not retire into poverty.”