UPDATED: CUPE displays public message to Max Blouw

Photo by Paige Bush

Photo by Paige Bush

On the corner of Hemlock Street and University Avenue, the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 926 released a message to Max Blouw, Wilfrid Laurier University president, in the form of a bus shelter sign. The message read,“Replacing good jobs with contract work for poverty wages hurts families and our community. But that’s what Laurier is doing. We expect better from our universities. Instead of betraying workers, Laurier should stand up for good jobs and better lives. It’s time to stop contracting out.”

The message was signed off by CUPE 926 and ended with their website, stopcontractingout.ca, which tells people to send an email to Blouw: “Help us defend good jobs at Laurier by sending an email to President and Vice-Chancellor Max Blouw.”

On their website, CUPE explains how Laurier wants to outsource its cleaning work and replace decently paid custodial jobs with low-pay wages. According to CUPE, the move will increase inequality at Laurier and cut good jobs in the Waterloo region.

The university later issued a statement in response to CUPE’s message. According to the statement, Laurier is facing significant productivity and absenteeism issues with custodial services and has consistently advised CUPE that they are willing to consider alternatives to contracting out. CUPE, however, has refused. The university said  that no custodians will be laid off and contractors will only be used when custodial positions become vacant.

“The University provided the Union with an offer for settlement on Jan. 28, 2016. It was rejected by the Union bargaining team. The University remains optimistic that the parties can reach a deal and is available to meet with the Union at any time to discuss the University’s offer for settlement,” read the statement (full statement below).

Over the past year, CUPE hoped to raise support for their custodial staff while they are in the middle of contract negotiations with the university.

Roger Collison, chief steward for CUPE 926, spoke about CUPE’s negotiations with the university and how CUPE had offered cost concessions to the university with new employees coming in at $17 per hour, a five dollar per hour less than what the university is currently paying them.

“Because they’re looking for cost containment, the figures that we have, they’re going to be paying the contract company over $19 per hour for somebody to clean. But the problem is that the cleaner isn’t going to get that $19 per hour, they’re going to get $13 per hour,” Collison explained.

CUPE suggested the university pay employees $17 per hour, as the living wage in the Kitchener-Waterloo Region is $16 an hour. According to Collison, the university was going to pay contract companies for their work in the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics.

“So we start the off at $17 per hour in the new building, but some people don’t realize that what they were going to pay the contract company come summer time, when it comes time to do the heavy work like stripping and waxing the floors, the shampooing and extracting of carpet, we do all of that as part of our wage,” Collison said. “If they had a contract company do that, they would have to hire another contract company to come in and do all those floors, which would costs thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars.”

However, according to Collison, the university turned down CUPE, which would have saved over $40,000 if they decided to hire employees instead of those from a contract company.

“Now I know we have benefits which adds to the price, but then you also add to the price the work that our people would do compared to the contract cleaners; you’re paying those extra thousands of dollars in the summer,” said Collison.

Collison explained if CUPE gives up article 20.01, the university would be able to hire contract cleaners and replace approximately 20 custodians who have been missing in the past seven years since a new regime took over physical resources.

“When I started back here back in 2007, I’m going to say there was roughly 90 custodians here, and now there’s about ­67.”

According to Collison, the university is also still using information about custodial staff from 2009. However, 20 custodians have left since then.

“The library is just over 90,000 square feet of cleaning space, and right now they have two and a half custodians in there. So if you divide two and a half into 92,000, you’ll get that they’re cleaning 37,000 square feet per custodians, and that’s a lot higher than what they claim, the 22,000.”

As for the message to Blouw, CUPE had also aired radio advertisements.

“We can see them wanting to save some money, businesses do that – they’ve got to cut money. And that’s why we put that second tier, or new tier of worker in there, but they didn’t want nothing to do with that.”

Full Wilfrid Laurier University statement in response to the CUPE bus shelter sign:

Wilfrid Laurier University is facing significant productivity and absenteeism issues related to custodial services. The University has advised CUPE repeatedly that it is willing to consider alternatives to contracting out that would allow the University to achieve a sustainable model using CUPE custodians. However, CUPE has refused to entertain any solutions to these operational challenges.
It is important to note that no Laurier custodians will be laid off as a result of contracting out. This means that contractors will only be used when custodial positions become vacant or if additional resources are required.
We emphasize that Laurier is seeking collective agreement language that CUPE has already agreed to at other universities.
The University provided the Union with an offer for settlement on Jan. 28, 2016. It was rejected by the Union bargaining team. The University remains optimistic that the parties can reach a deal and is available to meet with the Union at any time to discuss the University’s offer for settlement. 

*With files from Maddy Cutts

One Comment

  1. I don’t know what WLU is talking about when it says there have been productivity issues. The washrooms are always clean, the walkways are always cleared of snow, and the hallways are always sparkling. In the past 4 years that I’ve been at Laurier, I’ve never had an issue with the university’s sanitation. Keep up the good work CUPE 926, and keep fighting the good fight!

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