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UVic, unions back to bargaining on Tuesday

After two weeks of rotating strikes at the University of Victoria, pickets are expected to go down for the rest of the week as union and employee reps return to the bargaining table.

The job action culminated Monday with workers walking off the job at the bookstore and Finnerty Express coffee shop, along with residence house-keeping services.

"Today we turned it up a notch, as far as putting pressure up on the employer," CUPE 951 president Doug Sprenger said. "If we are able to make significant progress this week (in negotiations) there won't be any picketing action for a while."

CUPE 951 and 917 represent some 1,500 non-teaching jobs such as tradespeople, food service staff, childcare workers, and office and library staff, and have both been without contracts since March 31, 2010.

Bruce Kilpatrick, the university's director of communications, called it "unusual" to see the unions continuing to strike despite solidified plans to return to the bargaining table.

"It's hard to figure out because the conventions around this are if you're going back to the bargaining table, unless you're involved in a full-blown strike, then you suspend significant job action activity. We're not seeing that," he said.

Sprenger stressed that the objective of the job action was to keep pressure on the university without impacting students too much. He added, however, that the unions "thought it was important not to impact classes and labs. It's a relatively minor inconvenience to students that the bookstore's closed."

While management staff had to clean up the weekend messes inside on-campus housing on Monday and the strike kept the coffee shop closed, managers reopened the bookstore just after noon in a limited capacity.

It was closed an hour later after "heated verbal exchanges" erupted between picketers and students, according to UVic.

"There was concern about de-escalation. We wanted to make sure we weren't putting our students or staff in a position that compromised their safety," Kilpatrick said.

Sprenger rebutted the claim that there were heated conversations, but said CUPE members told UVic they were upset that management masqueraded as bookstore staff, wearing bookstore employee T-shirts.

"We said, 'We really like to bring the temperature down (at the bookstore), maybe we should walk (employees) to a different building, like the library. … I guess (UVic) took that as a threat," Sprenger said. "We just wanted to diffuse the situation."

Negotiations between the two unions and UVic were expected to take place Tuesday through Thursday this week. At issue for the unions is job security and inflation protection.

kslavin@saanichnews.com

 

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