11/4/07

Canadian gov't union picks a cold time to strike

Students at Saskatchewan's two major universities were greeted by pickets as they made their way to school Friday morning. More than 2,400 Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) put up picket lines outside the University of Regina and the University of Saskatchewan.

Picket lines in Regina have been set up at the main campus entrances at the University of Regina and at the old Regina Campus on College Avenue.
Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) picketed at the University of Regina on Friday morning. More than 2,400 CUPE members were off the job at both the University of Regina and the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.

Student Simon Kostic said he was forced to wait more than two minutes to cross the line. "They did a really good job of slowing traffic down," Kostic said. "As soon as the light turned green (the pickets) crossed over in order to slow traffic down. They walked in a circle in front of traffic to prevent people from coming in."

Lyssandra Pyle said she took the bus to the university this morning, but it wouldn't take her all the way. "The picketers stopped the bus (at the University Drive South entrance), so I had to walk to school from a farther distance," she said. "And it's getting cold out now, so it sucked."

Mike Ehman, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 588, which represents Regina Transit employees, said buses will not cross the picket line. But it is due to safety concerns, and is not a show of support for CUPE, he said. Officials from Regina Transit were unavailable to comment Friday.

Barb Pollock, vice-president of external affairs at the University of Regina, said students are going to be affected, but the university is working to ensure those effects are minimal.

"There are 110 of us out-of-scope staff, and we are doing what we can to maintain the essential parts of services - anything that affects the safety, health, and security of our students and staff - to minimize the impact on student programs," Pollock said Friday.

The University of Regina Faculty Association (URFA), which supports the strike, e-mailed its members asking that they do not volunteer for CUPE duties.

The university bookstore, pool, locker rooms and the lifestyles centre will remain closed and all intramural sports have been cancelled. The campus library hours have been shortened and will be closed weekends for the remainder of the strike. And food services are only available in the Riddell Centre.

Parking will still be enforced on campus. Parking enforcement officers are commissionaires, and not under this contract. However, the parking services office will be closed.

The university has contracted extra security staff - three officers inside, and five to monitor the picket lines. Pollock said that security is keeping an eye on the strike to ensure that there are not any problems.

The Serena Ryder concert Friday evening at Darke Hall was postponed until February - though refunds are available at point of purchase - and the Saturday performance of the play, The Water Child, at the U of R's ShuBox Theatre has also been cancelled.

Pollock said that most concerts will either be cancelled or postponed. She said that performances of plays, which require minimal staff, will be decided on a daily basis.

Class registration, set to commence next week, has been cancelled until further notice.

Don Puff, president of the affected CUPE local in Regina, said that the union is striking because the university refuses to change its position and return to the bargaining table.

Puff said that the major points of contention between CUPE and the universities are over concessions around benefits, and the fact that performance is tied to pay increments.

"At this point it's completely and totally up to the employers whether or not we go back to the table, and when we go to the table," Puff said from the picket line on College Avenue. "But, we'll be out here until we go back to the table and get a deal."

Pollock said the universities are more than willing to return to negotiations, but union representatives are not interested in "bargaining in good faith."

The strike could last a long time, and Pollock tells students they should check the U of R's Web site periodically to see what services will be affected and when.

(canada.com)

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