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SFU bargained in bad faith with CUPE staff: LRB

Simon Fraser University has been bargaining in bad faith with over 1,000 CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) support workers, according to a ruling by the province's labor relations board (LRB) on January 21.

The workers, represented by CUPE local 3338, have been working without a contract for nearly three years now. They are clerical workers, computer operators, library assistants, technicians, lifeguards, financial aid advisors, building technologists, programmer analysts, buyers, stores clerks, information specialists, control clerks, department resource specialists, maintenance schedulers and programmers.

The LRB ruled that the university had bargained in bad faith by insisting that negotiations with the support workers be tied to resolving the school’s difficulties with a multi party pension plan which is reportedly over $65 million in the red. Richard Longpre, an LRB vice chair, ruled that "…the University's attempt to keep the Pension Plan on the bargaining table at this time is a breach of Sections 11 and 47 of the Code."

According to CUPE, the SFU Pension Plan is a multi-party plan that can only be changed by all the participants, including other unions and staff associations.  The union says that those players all pulled out of pension talks late last year saying they would only discuss the pension once they had negotiated collective agreements. CUPE has repeatedly assured SFU that it will do everything it can to help the university out of its pension crisis, say union sources -- but only after collective bargaining has concluded and only with the other plan participants.

CUPE 3338 president Lynne Fowler said in a CUPE press release that the decision "is a vindication for our members and our bargaining committee –- we have waited too long for a contract –- that’s the message to SFU in this decision."

In a conversation with The Tyee on January 24, Fowler said her local was ready to go back to the negotiating table.

"If they approach us, we'll meet," she said. "We haven't had a contract since April 2010. A lot of time has gone down the drain."

Fowler said she was concerned that SFU might appeal the LRB decision rather than resume bargaining. The Tyee left multiple messages asking for comment on this matter with SFU president Andrew Petter and SFU's executive director of Human Resources Dario Nonis. Neither made himself available before this story was filed.

Tom Sandborn covers labour relations and health policy beats for The Tyee. He welcomes your feedback and story tips at tos@infinet.net.

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