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With co-operative gains unions risk taking blame for cuts

The co-operative gains mandate creates a dynamic where public sector unions risk being blamed for cuts, says the president of a local that recently completed an agreement.

"There was concern how this might be viewed by students," said Trish Everett, the president of CUPE 2278, which represents some 2,300 teaching assistants, tutors, markers and English language instructors at the University of British Columbia.

Under the bargaining mandate the provincial government set, any money for wage increases had to come from savings found elsewhere in the employer's budget. Savings plans had to be approved in advance by the responsible ministry.

CUPE 2278 this week ratified an agreement that included wage increases of one percent retroactive to Sept. 1, one percent on Dec. 1 and two percent on Sept. 1, 2013. The school has found some $30 million in "operating efficiencies" since 2010 that can be applied to this and other agreements, but officials have said that with costs rising and revenues flat UBC is financially strapped.

There was concern students would view the cuts as going directly to union members, said Everett. "I'm delighted that hasn't been my experience when I talk to students."

She said the union viewed the co-operative gains mandate as "interference" from the provincial government. "It really affected how we were able to bargain and what we were able to do for our membership," she said. "The whole time we felt the odds were stacked against us."

There are some 300,000 unionized workers in B.C.'s public sector, almost half of whom have reached agreements under the co-operative gains mandate.

Members of COPE 378 who work at ICBC also ratified an agreement this week. ICBC spokesperson Kathy Taylor refused to say how the Crown corporation plans to pay for the agreed on wage increases. "We don’t provide this information because doing so would be the same as disclosing our bargaining strategy and it could have an impact on our future negotiations," she said.

The agency has no other union locals bargaining under the co-operative gains mandate.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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