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UNBC support workers in favour of strike

Support workers at the University of Northern British Columbia joined their brethren at the University of Victoria and University of British Columbia by voting in favour of a strike mandate last night.

CUPE Local 3799, which represents over 300 administrative, facilities, events, and IT workers at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC), says 75 per cent of members cast their votes. The strike mandate passed with 91 per cent support.

"(The strike vote) does not mean we will automatically go on strike -- it means we are ready to take job action if it becomes necessary," Local 3799 President Caroline Sewell said in a press release.

"It also means we are in solidarity with our fellow university support workers across BC in demanding that the provincial government do the right thing."

The UNBC support workers have been negotiating with their employers since April 2010. Their contract expired June 2010.

Mitch Guitard, a national CUPE representative, told The Tyee UNBC workers waited this long for a strike vote because "we're still progressing in negotiations. But we're running into the end of what government is willing to move on."

He says the local is holding on to the mandate as leverage for the next round of negotiations, set to begin on September 27. If talks don't go their way, they'll consider their options, which could include a provincial walkout of support workers at University of British Columbia (UBC), University of Victoria (UVic), UNBC, Thompson Rivers University, Simon Fraser University, and Royal Roads University.

Rob van Adrichem, VP of external relations at UNBC, says he's glad the workers will be returning to the negotiation table in the fall. Despite two years without a contract, he feels confident a deal can be reached soon because UNBC has "a group of employees passionate about their jobs, and they want to reach an agreement as much as we do."

But he recognizes the pattern emerging among UNBC and other provincial universities currently negotiating contracts with support workers.

"My sense is net zero (mandate) has been very challenging to come to an agreement," said van Adrichem.

Like the support workers at UBC and UVic, UNBC support workers blame the government's "net-zero" mandate for stalled negotiations.

On June 6, CUPE support workers at the University of British Columbia served a 72-hour strike notice, frustrated because they have been without a contract since March 2010. The workers have since entered mediated talks with their employers.

Two of UVic's three CUPE locals have voted in favour of a strike: in May, CUPE Local 951, which represents office, technical, and childcare workers voted 80 per cent in favour. Last week, CUPE 917, which represents "outside" workers at UVic, voted 93 percent in favour. They have been in contract negotiations since October 2010.

Katie Hyslop reports on education and youth issues for The Tyee Solutions Society.

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