On January 7, workers in St. Thomas University’s Staff and Administrative Union (STUSAU), organized under the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), voted to reject the university’s final offer for a contract. STUSAU represents 51 workers who work in office administration, facilities management, IT services, recruitment, academic advising, residence supervision, financial services and athletics at St. Thomas University.
The “no” vote is an automatic strike mandate. The PSAC negotiator sent the results to the employer and the provincially appointed mediator late on the night of January 7. The negotiating team is awaiting further word on whether St. Thomas University will agree to return to the bargaining table with a new mandate to negotiate the outstanding issues and reach a tentative agreement. In the interim, no strike date has been set by the PSAC. Both the Union and St. Thomas University must provide 24 hours notice of any strike or lockout.
STUSAU president Jennifer Burry, who works in the university’s athletic department, emphasized the important difference between a “final offer” and a negotiated collective agreement. “We have been able to negotiate most of the articles within our first collective agreement,” she says. “All language is being built within this process. They start with their language; we start with ours. When we agree, it’s whatever language both parties can agree to, which is very important because we both have to live with this collective agreement for the life of it.”
With a “final offer” from the university on the outstanding issues, the language of those remaining issues would prioritize the university’s interests, which was not acceptable to the STUSAU workers.
There are six main outstanding issues, including job security, layoffs and severance. Burry is confident that the remaining issues can be resolved. “When we were last at the table on December 18 and 19, we signed off on six crucial articles (through) hours of work that had been on the table for over four years.” She adds, “We strongly believe that if both parties sat down and were given the time, we could negotiate the remaining articles.”
The ball has been placed in the court of the university to come back to the bargaining table and continue negotiating in good faith on the remaining items.
“These workers have been bargaining in good faith for more than four years in order to reach a fair collective agreement that reflects the important work they do. We hope that the employer will return to the bargaining table and negotiate the outstanding issues”, says Jeannie Baldwin, Regional Executive Vice-President of PSAC Atlantic.
Negotiations for a first contract between St. Thomas University and PSAC have been ongoing since July 8, 2010 when the workers joined the PSAC and the New Brunswick Labour Board certified PSAC as the bargaining agent.
Asaf Rashid is a member of the NB Media Co-op.