Hundreds rallied in support of unionized custodians, groundskeepers, and tradespeople at Wilfrid Laurier University on December 3rd, to declare their solidarity in the fight against contracting out.
WLU administration is determined to save money by phasing out its unionized custodial staff and bringing in contracted workers who earn $13/hour with no pensions or benefits. Already, WLU has laid off custodians unionized with CUPE 926 as it closes buildings for renovations, and then used loopholes in its agreement with the union to contract out work in newly constructed buildings on the same site. While the union continues to fight these tactics by taking grievances to arbitration, the university is determined to make this practice the new norm by demanding at the bargaining table that language protecting unionized jobs be taken out of the Collective Agreement.
The stand-off seems destined for a strike or lockout early in the new year, and CUPE 926 members are going to need our support and solidarity.
Already, unions at the university and beyond are declaring their solidarity for CUPE 926 publicly. The Presidents of the two largest unions at WLU spoke at the December 3rd rally: the Niru Phillip, President of OSSTF 35 (WLU Staff Association) and Michele Kramer, President of the WLU Faculty Association. Flags for IATSE, which represents theatre and stage employees, and UFCW, which represents food service workers at the university, were also seen flying at the event. Of course, so was the flag of the Waterloo Regional Labour Council, representing 35 unions with a membership of 26,000 workers across Waterloo Region!
|left-right: CUPE Ontario Universities Chair Janice Folk-Dawson, CUPE staff representative Jill Smyth, CUPE 926 President Allan Savard, WLU Staff Association President Niru Phillip, WLU Faculty Association President Michele Kramer|
CUPE 926 President Allan Savard thanked fellow union members and supporters for attending the rally, and said he looked forward to his union's strike vote the following Sunday (his 110 members voted overwhelmingly to support strike action if necessary). He said the university administrators he faced at the bargaining table announced that he should expect a "new regime" on the other side of the table this round, and so far this has proved true.
OSSTF 35 President Niru Phillip recalled the bitter 50-day strike he and his members went through at WLU in 2002, and expressed sadness that the university has forgotten how long it took to resume cordial workplace relations afterwards. He urged CUPE members to stick to their principles, and that fellow university union members would have their backs.
WLUFA President Michele Kramer spoke disparagingly of the university's constant reference to its managers, employees, and students as a big family. Indeed, the family imagery is used to prospective students in every recruitment drive held for Laurier. But Laurier is acting like an abusive parent in this family, Kramer said: "They might look like Ward or June Cleaver at the church social, but they beat the snot out of Wally and Beaver behind the closed doors of their own home!"
Janice Folk-Dawson, a CUPE member from the University of Guelph and Chair of CUPE Ontario's University Workers' Committee, said WLU is following in the footsteps of many universities who are trying to cut corners by trimming good union jobs, and forcing custodians to cover way more area for no extra pay. This has negative economic consequences for the community, and means dirtier and less well-maintained university buildings.
The university seems to determined to have its way in its current contract negotiations with CUPE 926. The members of CUPE 926 are going to need our support over the coming months, so be prepared to help them out!