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Saskatoon/Regina: Striking workers at both the University of Saskatchewan and University of Regina were back at work Dec 3. after both sides agreed to refer the outstanding issues in the contract dispute to binding arbitration.

The agreement was reached this afternoon with the assistance of provincial conciliator Doug Forseth. The two sides met for 14 hours yesterday and returned to the conciliation table at 9 a.m. today.

It’s not the resolution we wanted, but the government’s threat of back-to-work legislation meant ‘arbitration’ was the only topic of discussion at the conciliation table,” says CUPE 1975 bargaining chair Brad McKaig. “Since both employers appeared to prefer legislation to negotiation, it had a huge influence on what we could achieve at the table.”

Premier Brad Wall told the media on Thursday the government would end the strike through back-to-work legislation if no agreement was reached in concilation talks, which resumed Friday.

Given the threat of government intervention, our only option was to influence how arbitration would proceed, not whether it would proceed,” says McKaig.

The two outstanding issues that triggered the 30-day strike – regular increments and benefit plans – will be referred to a single arbitrator, Andrew Simms, whose decision will be binding.

I’m pleased members are going to be back to work and earning a pay cheque again. I’m also glad student life will soon be back to normal,” says Don Puff, president of CUPE Local 1975-01 in Regina. “But I’m disappointed we’ve had to refer the two issues we walked the line for to a third party. That’s not the outcome we wanted, but we’re caught between an employer that refuses to negotiate and a government that’s threatening to legislate.”

The tentative agreement provides:

  • A moratorium on withholding increments pending receipt of the arbitration decision and any appeals
  • A retention bonus of $ 1,000 payable on the first pay cheque after the date of signing
  • Wage increases (including increments) of 4.5%, 4.75% and 5% pending the ruling of the arbitrator
  • Significant reductions in the number of “red-circled” employees, from over 400 members at the start of the collective agreement to less than 50 at the end of the agreement. These red-circled employees will receive lump sum increases of 5%, 5% and 5%.
  • The removal of all concessions from the employers’ package
  • Extension of shift differential to non-permanent employees
  • Improved pension plan funding to ensure the long-term viability of the plan
    • At the U of S, matched contributions will rise to 6% on May 1, 2008 and to 6.5% on May 1, 2009
    • At the U of R, matched contributions increased to 6.5% on Sept. 1, 2007

The CUPE negotiating committee commended their members for the tremendous unity and courage they showed on the picket line over the last month. “This strike has galvanized our membership and exposed the corrosive labour relations climate at both universities,” the negotiating committee says.

The CUPE negotiating committee also thanked concerned academics, sessional lecturers, administrative assistants (ASPA and APT) and students for their support and encouraged CUPE 1975 members to return to work with their heads held high. “We showed our employers what solidarity looks like – and that’s something they won’t quickly forget.”

The union praised conciliator Doug Forseth for his patience and perseverance in helping the parties reach a tentative agreement.

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For more information contact: Brad McKaig at 306 229-6730 or Don Puff at 306 537-3199