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Cowichan VIU's support workers vote an 86% strike mandate

Users of Cowichan
Users of Cowichan's new Vancouver Island University campus are hopeful it won't be behind pickets barely a year into its mandate.
— image credit: Andrew Leong/file

Unionized support workers at VIU's Cowichan campus would rather not strike and close the facility.

But CUPE's 30-some members here, and their peers at VIU's up-island campuses, voted an 86% strike mandate Monday and Tuesday after about two years of what they call frustrating talks with the province using VIU's brass as middlemen.

Local 1858 members include food services workers, clerical staff, facilities workers, and library staff.

The problem, explained 1858 president Deborah Hopper, isn't with VIU leaders, but ultimately with Victoria.

"The Post-Secondary Employers' Association sent all discussions back to local tables, but VIU doesn't have authority to approve a proposal," she said.

"That rests with the PSEA, and they get their mandate from the province."

The catch-22 has seen talks reach back to when the 300-member local's contract with PSEA lapsed on June 30, 2010.

Hopper's members are tired of talking.

"If we reached the point of a full-on strike action, yes, that (campus closure) could happen but there are lots of steps in between.

"For example, if we re-entered mediation, you can't take strike action and that would put everything on hold.

"It could mean an overtime ban, or rotating pickets. A strike would be our last resort," she said.

Clouding bargaining waters is a deal struck in March 2011 between VIU's striking faculty and the province.

Also, government workers and CUPE university support workers at several B.C. campuses recently inked new collective agreements for 2% wage hikes, with improvements to language and no concessions.

"The issue is fairness," Hopper states in a release.

"We want a settlement in line with other recent public-sector settlements, and we won't accept less than that."

Dan Hurley, VIU's university relations executive director, was understanding but declined to discuss bargaining specifics Wednesday.

"I can't get into details about where we are with negotiations

"We're working closely with the union and the government. Our mandate is provided to us by the provincial government, and we're working toward a solution with no disruption to students," he said.

Hopper said Victoria has basically backed CUPE into a corner, and no further talks were currently booked.

"We're working on the next step. The sooner we solve this, the sooner it'll make me happy."

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