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October 24, 2012

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Stalled college talks prompt strike votes

VANCOUVER—Collective bargaining between BC’s colleges sector and 3,000 CUPE support and teaching staff has been going well, there’s just one hitch – the provincial government.  And that hitch is pushing CUPE workers towards strike action. 

Two and a half years after their last contract expired, local college employers and CUPE members are still waiting for the BC Liberals to give the institutions the go-ahead to negotiate new collective agreements.

The BC Liberals insisted that colleges provide a ‘savings plan’ for their approval. The Post Secondary Employers’ Association did that back in the summer, but are still waiting for approval.  Similar savings plans in the BC universities sector were approved months ago and several CUPE university locals now have new tentative agreements.

As well as some local issues at individual institutions, the main focus is on a fair and reasonable wage increase.  The colleges are negotiating for four-year deals retroactive to July 1, 2010.

CUPE’s BC Colleges Coordinator Ian McLean says, “the relationship between the union and the employer is not the problem here – political interference is.”  McLean says that recent public sector settlements by the BCGEU and fellow CUPE university workers have set the pattern.

“We aren’t asking for anything that isn’t already out there,” says McLean, “we just want a fair and reasonable agreement. The employers know this – the problem is that the government has stalled the process. At this point, some of our locals are fed up and they are planning to take action.”

Both the College of the Rockies and Vancouver Community College are holding strike votes this Thursday. Vancouver Island University plans to hold a strike vote next Tuesday. If the strike votes are approved by the union membership, the locals can go ahead and serve 72-hour strike notice to launch job action. That can mean anything from an overtime ban to rotating picket lines and the withdrawal of services to a full blown campus-wide strike. 

Other colleges still have bargaining dates. North Island College has bargaining scheduled on Nov. 2 and Nov. 5. Camosun has a session set for Nov. 6 and the College of New Caledonia meets Nov. 6-8.

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