Union urges strikers to reject settlement offer

Striking university support staff will vote on a contract offer early next week, but it may not mean a resolution to the ongoing labour dispute involving 2,400 striking workers.

Don Puff, a spokesman for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) local 1975, said union leadership will be strongly suggesting members reject the offer, which Puff says is an attempt to bully employees facing financial struggles as Christmas approaches.

"We're pretty sure (the offer) will be rejected because it's worse than what they went on strike for," he said.

Puff's comments stand in stark contrast with those of University of Regina spokeswoman Barbara Pollock, who calls the offer "fair and reasonable." She said she found CUPE's poor characterization of the offer as "rather odd." "I think the offer from the universities has pretty well just generally been increasing as we go along," she said.

The offer came out of conciliation talks between the CUPE local and its employers, the University of Regina and the University of Saskatchewan.

The two sticking points remain benefits packages and the universities' plan to link wage increases to performance reviews.

Pollock said the new offer increases benefits, provides a $750 retention bonus for employees still working at the universities next year, and includes new contract language which "puts some process" to the performance reviews by giving employees greater recourse.

Puff has a different reading of the proposed contract.

He said the offer has a worse benefits package, and takes away or lessens lump-sum payments for employees. He said the union is also ethically and morally opposed to the entire principle of linking employees wage increases to performance reviews.

Puff said the universities put forward the offer Tuesday night, and the union countered by offering to go to mediation to resolve the outstanding issues around benefits and performance reviews.

If the matter had gone to mediation, Puff said, union members would have been back on the job within two days.

"We offered to go back to work ... they're the ones who rejected our offer to go back to work and kept us out on this picket line," he said.

Pollock said the university didn't refuse to go to mediation, but "preferred" that union membership vote on the offer instead.

Puff said CUPE representatives had to take the offer to their membership by law, and didn't have a choice.

Union members will vote on the offer on Monday and Tuesday. If the deal is rejected, further negotiations are slated to take place at the end of next week.

Pollock wouldn't speculate on whether the universities would agree to mediation if the offer is rejected.

Both sides have posted information about the offer on their respective Web sites. The universities' site can be found at http://blogs.usask.ca/updates and CUPE's at www.cupe1975-01.ca


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