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Who are the CUPE members involved in this labour dispute?
  • There are three CUPE locals representing about 5,000 employees at the University of British Columbia.
    • Local 116 represents about 1,800 members, including skilled trades workers, labourers, technical and computer professionals, food service and aquatic centre workers, as well as bookstore, horticultural, security, and parking employees. Local 116 was in mediation, and had not yet started job action, when the government passed Bill 21, the cooling-off period law.
    • Local 2278 represents the 1,600 teaching assistants. TAs do 40 per cent of the undergraduate teaching. They instruct labs, teach classes, lead tutorial groups and mark. The TAs had been bargaining since September 2002. They began job action on February 12, 2003.
    • Local 2950 represents about 1,500 secretarial, administrative/clerical and library workers, computer operators, assistant programmers, buyers and printing operators. At the Chan Centre, the local speaks for stage technicians, costume specialists, and others. This local had just started rotating job actions when Bill 21 blindsided then bargaining process. Women make up more than 92 per cent of the membership.
What are the main bargaining issues?

Equitable settlement for all employee groups at UBC
  • UBC’s compensation philosophy seems to be based on George Orwell’s Animal Farm: ’All employees are equal, but some are more equal than others.’

  • UBC claims it doesn’t have the money to pay for CUPE staff contracts. How did it manage to find money for increases to the highest paid staff at the university?
    • In January 2003, UBC president Martha Piper received a 63 per cent raise, from $215,000 to $350,000. Plus, she will receive an extra $50,000 “performance bonus” in each of the next three years. That adds 14.3, 12.5 and 11.1 per cent, respectively. This salary increase is on top of her free housing, free tuition for her and members of her family as well as other expensive perks and travel allowances.
    • In about the same timeframe as this CUPE agreement, faculty salary and benefits increases cost UBC at least 18 per cent over three years (July 1, 2001 – June 30, 2004).
    • Senior administrators earning more than $55,000 got increases from 5 to 42.9 per cent for one year alone between March 2001 and March 2002.
  • But when it came time for CUPE contract negotiations, suddenly there was no money left:
    • To Locals 2950 and 116 – UBC tabled 0 per cent wage increases for three years. Also, there would be no money to complete the last pay equity adjustment in Local 2950’s pay equity plan – all of 2 per cent.
    • Meanwhile they hiked tuition fees by up to 40 per cent and ended tuition protection for TAs, making them the only employee group on campus without free tuition or tuition relief, even though tuition fees are a key condition of employment.
    • Piper, other highly paid administrators along with faculty and other union groups are entitled to free tuition for up to 12 credits per year. These benefits, if unused by the employee, may be passed on to members of their immediate family.
Why is UBC’s offer of 10 per cent to the TAs still a wage cut?
  • It may be hard to believe that a 10 per cent increase over three years could be a rollback. But it is. Here’s why:
    • UBC refuses to extend the letters of agreement on tuition and on health benefits that expired August 31, 2002. That means no tuition relief and no health benefits for TAs. The tuition letter provided TAs with 50 per cent protection in the event of tuition fee increases.
    • UBC has raised graduate student tuition fees by nearly 50 per cent since September. TAs want their tuition fee increases waived to keep up with other universities too. TAs at York University, the University of Toronto, Simon Fraser and Carleton University in Ottawa get rebates when tuition goes up, while Guelph and McMaster index wages to tuition fee increases.
    • Even after UBC’s 10 per cent wage offer, the scheduled increases still amount to a 6 per cent wage cut since TAs can’t work without paying tuition.
    • UBC says it won’t negotiate tuition fee protection, yet it did so in the last round of negotiations (http://www.cupe2278.ca/tuition_letter.htm).
  • TAs are asking for wage parity with SFU. They make $2.75 an hour less than their SFU counterparts, though UBC is the larger, and better funded university. UBC has still not agreed to parity in this agreement, though it based Martha Piper’s 63 per cent raise on the compensation packages of the highest paid presidents at universities across Canada, such as the U. of T.
Who will benefit from UBC’s demand for concessions?
  • CUPE is fighting off an aggressive campaign by UBC to strip contracting-out language from our agreements. Is this why the government has stepped in with legislation?

  • Locals 116 and 2950 negotiated their contracting-out clauses years ago. These clauses have worked well and the quality of CUPE members’ work will stand up to any scrutiny. While the university higher-ups are receiving much higher salaries and benefits packages, UBC is telling CUPE members they can’t afford them any longer.

  • Independent contractors and their association are aggressively lobbying government to parcel out all construction work to the private sector, even when universities like UBC have professional in-house service that undertakes only minor capital projects, such as renovations and maintenance. These firms don’t just want the major capital projects, they want it all! Non-union companies are chomping at the bit to take CUPE members’ jobs. This is not about making construction more competitive, it’s about the their desire to monopolize all B.C. construction.

  • On March 11, 2003, the day before Bill 21, the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association announced that, “private contractors are being unfairly shut out of [UBC and SFU], leading to higher costs.” ICBA vice-president Phillip Hochstein called on the government to audit the building projects at the UBC and SFU for cost over-runs.

  • The ties between Gordon Campbell and leaders of the rabidly anti-union ICBA are very public. Campbell’s cozy speeches to ICBA functions clearly illustrate just how much he is willing to accommodate the anti-union construction companies . The question is: Will Labour Minister Graham Bruce legislate an agreement that guts our contracting-out language to satisfy Liberal party cronies?

  • Cost over-runs are hardly new to the construction sector. In response, CUPE calls on the government to audit all the ICBA-member projects to investigate their cost over-runs and work quality over the past five years.
Why does CUPE object to Bill 21?
  • Free collective bargaining is a fundamental democratic right. Otherwise, employees are effectively reduced to servants under the law.

  • So far, the government has stacked all the cards in UBC’s favour. They took away the “only weapon of last resort” – job action – that UBC employees had to stave off the brutal bargaining concessions demanded by the university. This followed 13 months of UBC’s stalling tactics. All the contracts had expired between seven and 12 months ago.

  • University work is not an essential service. No lives were in danger. All hospital employees and patients were given free access to UBC without hesitation.

  • There were no grounds to legislate a cooling-off period without providing an effective dispute resolution mechanism; a binding mediator/arbitrator was not appointed to end the dispute. A cooling-off period may only exist to give the government time to write a legislated collective agreement based on UBC’s terms and conditions.
CUPE supports UBC’s 23,000 students
  • CUPE was using job action to force UBC to bargain seriously. We completely support UBC’s 23,000 students. We object to the way they have been treated by the university and government by having to pay exorbitant tuition fees. CUPE members care about students and see this as a fight for workers’ rights and access to higher education for all students, including TAs.

  • This institution receives only about 50 per cent of its funding from government. The government had no right to interfere with this dispute.

  • This government is not ruling in the interest of all British Columbians. This may be a first step to a legislated contract. The government seems only to support raises for the elites. It does not take away their right to job action, when exercised. When the doctors took job action last year, the government rewarded them with a 30 per cent increase over three years. When public sector workers have gone on strike, the Campbell government has typically legislated a contract that amounts to the employer’s last offer.