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Members from post-secondary education locals met in a sector meeting at CUPE’s national convention to address some of the common issues members are facing on campuses across the country.

Attacks on wages and pensions, threats of privatization, and continued pay equity struggles were common themes. Members described these issues as challenging, but also offered success stories and uplifting demonstrations of solidarity from their locals.

Here are some of the highlights from the meeting.

Strike at Université de Sherbrooke

Lucie Des Rosiers of CUPE 1574 (Université du Québec à Chicoutimi) addressed recent struggles at the Université de Sherbrooke, where CUPE members have been without a contract for almost three years.

In October 2010, CUPE 7498 voted 98 per cent in favour of job action. They struck for two days in July 2011. They also initiated a 16-hour general strike at the university in August. Management ignored them. In September,the local was visited by the provincial council, who offered major support. Efforts to reach a fair contract continue at the local.

Bargaining under wage restraint

Janice Folk-Dawson of CUPE 1334 (University of Guelph) explained the structure of the Ontario University Workers Coordinating Committee (OUWCC) and their coordinated bargaining campaign. Ontario campus workers faced tough challenges as the provincial government tried to implement severe wage restraints. The government imposed legislation for non-union workers, and created expectations of two years of zeros via so-called consultation with unions.

Through coordinated bargaining, CUPE members presented their vision for post-secondary in Ontario and challenged the government on major issues that exist in the sector. The government and several universities also launched a major attack on defined benefit pension plans. In spite of these attacks, CUPE members achieved wage increases in each year of every contract, defended the pension plans, and made language improvements.

Case study on fighting privatization       

Wayne Foley of CUPE 1975 (University of Saskatchewan) reported on his employer’s attempts to privatize printing services at the university. The university hired banking giant PriceWaterhouseCoopers to assess the efficiency of the university. No workers or unions were consulted, and eventually the employer indicated their intent to shut down printing services on campus and contract out to third party, which would have cost the local 30 jobs.

The local entered discussions with employer in the spring after the university asked the union to waive contracting-out language in their collective agreement. The local was not able to completely stop contracting-out, but managed to keep their printing plant and a small digital shop open. The contracting-out language in their collective agreement was very useful in the fight. It helped the
local put pressure on employers to provide supporting facts to justify the privatization.

Building alliances on campus through public water campaigns

Leo Cheverie of CUPE 1870 (University of Prince Edward Island) explained how his local brought together coalition partners to create an awareness campaign on water issues, particularly related to Bottled Water Free Day. The local has successfully lobbied to have public water infrastructure installed, and continues to work on getting bottled water banned on campus. Fifteen campuses across the country have banned bottled water.

Pay equity in Quebec

Denise Beland of SCFP 1800 (Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières) and Roxanne Labbée of SCFP 1733 (Institut national de la recherche scientifique)addressed the battle for pay equity in Quebec, which has taken over 20 years.

In Quebec, pay equity discussions around equal opportunities and equal work for equal pay began in 1989. Pay equity legislation was adopted in 1996, after years of discussion and negotiation.

The law set a number of criteria. Through the pay equity commission, the government claimed equity had been reached. Unions challenged this assertion, and took their case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Unfortunately, the act does not specify methods or tools for achieving pay equity, creating difficulty in developing an equity plan. Quebec locals tried to push employee questionnaires, but employers made it difficult to circulate them. The pay equity commission still seems to be the best avenue for achieving results, and the fight for real equity continues.