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Two-day strike cancels classes at VIU's Cowichan campus

VIU Cowichan’s continuing-education staffer Kim Lesiuk (left) and welcome-centre worker Trudy Bagnall were among some 20 Local 1858 support employees on strike Tuesday. - Peter W. Rusland
VIU Cowichan’s continuing-education staffer Kim Lesiuk (left) and welcome-centre worker Trudy Bagnall were among some 20 Local 1858 support employees on strike Tuesday.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland

VIU student Sydney Rabey had déjà vu yesterday as her classes at Cowichan's campus were scrubbed amid unionized support-worker strike action.

"I went to VIU when they had the last strike (by faculty in 2011) and we were out for a month," she said, working on an English literature paper due yesterday as students and administration were entering campus buildings.

Rabey hoped her classes at Cowichan and Nanaimo campuses aren't cancelled for another month.

"I hope they can figure something out soon so we can get back to class," said Rabey. "We've got two weeks left until exams."

Members of CUPE Local 1858 set up pickets at the campus this morning at 7 a.m., joining workers at three other VIU campuses and a handful of other B.C. institutions in a planned two-day walkout.

"This a one-day, possibly a two-day disruption," VIU registrar Fred Jacklin said Tuesday. "We're working with CUPE and all parties to minimize disruptions."

Jacklin said it hadn't been discussed if students will get two days of instruction added because of the strike.

And he declined to comment about bargaining, or about VIU brass caught in the contract crossfire between the Canadian Union of Public Employees — including Cowichan's 30-some support workers — and B.C. finance ministry's Public Sector Employers' Council.

"That's the disconnect. They're still the monkey in the middle," CUPE Local 1858 head Deborah Hopper said of VIU managers talking with CUPE about the union's proposed four-year 0-0-2-2% proposal.

"The problem is colleges can bargain with the union, but can't sign deals with them — that's province's responsibility under PSEC.

"It's in limbo. All colleges have put proposals in, but the province (PSEC) won't come to the table, or discuss anything with us."

PSEC's lines were busy Tuesday.

Local 1838 represents nearly 30 Cowichan campus workers among 300 island employees, including food services workers, clerical staff, facilities workers and library staff at VIU's four campuses.

CUPE members at VIU's campuses have been without a contact since 2010 and voted 86% in favour of a strike mandate recently.

"All we're asking is to continue free collective bargaining," said Hopper. "It's incredibly inappropriate to put students in the middle."

Rabey agreed. "It's an inconvenience for us."

According to a VIU news release, limited work/study space is available in the Students' Commons area from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. today and tomorrow. Counselling for emergency situations is also being provided.

The university will post updates here. Students are encouraged to monitor their e-mails for update.

The walkout also affects North Island College, Camosun College, College of the Rockies and the College of New Caledonia. Vancouver Community College workers went out Monday.

Other VIU campuses affected are Nanaimo, Parksville/Qualicum and Powell River.

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