University of Saskatchewan employees vote to strike on pension plan negotiations

By in News
A Canadian Union of Public Employees button sitting on the merchandise table at the U of S campus.

On Sept. 27, members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees 1975 met on campus to start voting on whether or not to strike against the University of Saskatchewan. This vote follows failed negotiations between the union and the university regarding the CUPE 1975 employee pension plan.

CUPE is the largest union in the country, and includes 665,000 members across Canada representing workers in various fields. CUPE 1975 is the local office at the U of S, representing around 600 employees on campus working in operational services and more employees working in facility services and security services.

CUPE 1975 and the university have been negotiating the terms of their U of S employees’ pension plans since 2016, but now their bargainings have gone a different course. On Sept. 18, CUPE 1975 sent written notice to the university and the Minister of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety stating that negotiations between the two parties have reached an impasse.

According to the CUPE 1975 website, the university is refusing to talk about the current pension plan and the changes they want to implement. The university, on the other hand, states on their website that they have always been open to discussing the pension plans.

Bob Jones, vice-president of CUPE 1975, says the university is declining to talk because they want to change the current plan — a defined benefit plan — to a target benefit plan.

“[In] the last round of bargaining, they wanted us to go to a different type of plan,” Jones said. “The target plan put a cap on the money that the university would put into [the pension plan]… The defined benefit plan — if there is a shortfall in that funding — the university is obligated to make up for that shortfall.”

Jones said that CUPE 1975 put forth a plan in 2014 where the union would bear almost 50 per cent of the shortfall to aid the university.

“We had actually put a proposal forward to them that … we would bear about 48 per cent of the shortfall in the pension at that time … that would’ve saved the university $10 million … for the last four years,” Jones said.

According to U of S Media Relations Specialist Jennifer Thoma, the university has already presented CUPE 1975 with a solution that is logical.

“In early September, the university tabled an offer to settle that is fair and reasonable, especially in considerations of the current economic environment,” Thoma said, in an email to the Sheaf. “As well, this proposal addresses numerous interests expressed by both parties from the onset of the latest round of bargaining.”

Mark Hancock, CUPE national president, attended the Sept. 27 meeting to vote to strike as a speaker. Hancock says this impasse will certainly impact CUPE 1975 workers further down the road.

“This is not just impacting workers as they are working here right now — this is going to impact them in the future. This is going to lead to what type of retirement they can have,” Hancock said.

According to Hancock, CUPE 1975 is always willing to work with the U of S to find solutions, but they are not willing to change their established plans completely.

“We’re not willing to … totally give the employer a carte blanche to change our defined [benefit] plan into a target plan or a contribution plan,” Hancock said. “We always get a deal. It doesn’t matter how much pressure this employer is going to need … whether … that’s a job action or whether … that’s a strike vote.”

Craig Hannah, president of CUPE 1975, says that, while the bargaining team was willing to make changes during their bargaining period, the university did not show interest in the solutions they had to offer.

“At that round of bargainings, they didn’t seem interested in us sharing that at all, which is truly disappointing because we are here to bargain in good faith, and that was showing definitely good faith,” Hannah said.

In a university council meeting on Sept. 27, Brent Kobes, acting U of S Students’ Union President, stated that if a strike occurs, services will still be available for students.

“There are essential services that will continue to work even through the strike, such as certain members of residence services and culinary services, to make sure things will keep moving forward, as well as protective services,” Kobes said.

Voting on the strike will continue until 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 28.

CUPE 1975 member drops a ballot into the ballot box after the strike vote and rally on the U of S campus on September 27, 2018.

Update:

A vote to strike was held by CUPE 1975 on Sept. 27 and Sept. 28 in regards to the bargains made around pension plans. A decision has been made and CUPE 1975 members are in favour of a job action, supporting their bargaining committee’s decision to oppose the offered change in pension plans by the university. 

According to Craig Hannah, CUPE 1975 President, the vote to strike confirmed that CUPE 1975 members, who are U of S employees, are willing to stand for the security of their pension plan as stated in their website.

Our members have made it clear that they support our bargaining committee’s fight to protect our members’ secure defined benefit pension plan,” said Hannah. “This strike mandate is a clear message to the U of S, we demand pension issues to be dealt with at the bargaining table.”

More details to follow on Oct.1.

J.C. Balicanta Narag / Outreach Director

Photos: Heywood Yu