Possible strike for Laurier’s custodial staff

The contract negotiations between Wilfrid Laurier University and The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 926 may result in 110 custodial, grounds and trades employees on the Waterloo campus to go on strike next week.

As explained in a previous article by The Cord, Laurier and CUPE are currently in the middle of negotiating the renewal of their collective agreement, which expired last June.

The main argument is centered around a clause in CUPE’s contract which deals with the topic of third-party contract workers being hired by the university.

“We have approximately 65 custodians right now and what it is, is in our contract, clause 20-01, and what they want to do is not really remove it, but make some changes to it to allow them to bring in outside contractors if they have to—if they have to lay off people or if people are sick,” said Allan Savard, plumber at Laurier and president of CUPE Local 926.

“That allows them to bring in outside contractors. That’s what we’re trying to stop them from doing.”

Ultimately, CUPE 926 fears that bringing in contract custodial workers threatens their job security.

“If they bring in outside contractors, these people are coming in at 13 dollars an hour, so we consider this extremely underpaid—no benefits, no pension. If there is a lay off at the university because of budget cuts or anything like that and we lose, just as an example, four to six custodians, they can replace them with outside contractors on a big money saving,” Savard said.

Jim Butler, vice-president of finance and administration at Laurier, explained how there are two issues that the university is trying to work through with CUPE 926: post-retirement benefits and the productivity of custodial staff.

“The bargaining unit has been without a contract for well over a year. The two issues that are remaining are the post-retirement benefits, which is something that were provide to all employee groups and its part of the negotiated benefits in all of the collective agreements,” Butler said.

“CUPE is the last group that we are working with to have post-retirement benefit premiums to be paid by at the rate of 15 per cent, for people retiring after January 1, 2017.”

Butler explained that most organizations do not practice this, as it is costly.

The second issue pertains to the university’s desire to hire contract workers to enhance productivity. Butler explained how this issue is solely with the custodial group within CUPE 926.

“CUPE consists of trades groups, custodial and grounds … Our main concern is the custodial group productivity.”

According to Butler, hiring contract custodians exists in CUPE contracts at other post-secondary institutions, such as the University of Guelph and the University of Toronto, among many others.

“We’ve been trying to engage CUPE in discussions for well over a year now on dealing with our concerns in respect to productivity, but have been rebuffed. That’s left us with no choice but to propose strengthening of the contracting out language, which already exists in the agreement … We’re trying to emphasize the fact that we don’t intend to lay anyone off as a result of that,” Butler said.

This is the root of the issue that CUPE 926 is having with the university.

“They don’t like the language that we’ve proposed,” Butler said.

Both sides of the disagreement seem willing to speak and to find a solution.

“We would like to come to a happy middle. I’m sure there’s something there, we just [have] to find out where that is. We’re willing to talk. We want to keep on talking until we come up with something,” Savard said.

Butler, as well, explained that the university is hopeful.

“There’s still time to negotiate an agreement.”

If an agreement is not made this week, this could mean that by Saturday the students and staff of Laurier will not have custodial services available on campus for an undetermined amount of time.

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