U of S Union Surprised by Attempt to Force Contract Vote

Alex MacPherson  •  Saskatoon StarPhoenix

The union representing University of Saskatchewan administrative workers was ”blindsided” by the institution’s attempt to force a vote on its final contract offer, says the union’s president.

“It was a surprise to us. We had no notice that was coming,” Administrative and Supervisory Personnel Association (ASPA) president Curtis Larson said in an interview.

“We’re just trying to understand what the purpose of this is, why they want to push this forward so quickly,” Larson added of the university’s application to the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board.

If granted by the LRB, the application would force the ASPA’s 1,400 members to vote on the offer tabled last month, after mandatory mediation failed to produce an agreement.

While the university called it “generous and equitable,” Larson said it is “not acceptable.”

The offer, which is retroactive to May 1, 2019, includes zero per cent wage increases followed by a 1.5 per cent increase in 2021, as well as a $2,500 “signing bonus.”

However, it decreases the “merit pool,” which Larson said is the only way employees can receive pay increases after reaching what is known as the salary “target point.”

The offer, Larson added, is also less than the university had previously offered.

“From the feedback we have been receiving, our members are not in favour of this,” Larson said.

The university declined an interview request. In a prepared statement, U of S spokesman Gord Hunchak said bargaining will continue if the applied-for vote does not succeed.

“The university has tabled a very generous and equitable offer which includes a $2,500 signing bonus, increases to wages and benefits as well as pension contributions,” Hunchak said in the statement.

“The vote is subject to (LRB) approval and a date has not yet been set. The university remains committed to reaching a fair and equitable agreement with ASPA.”

Applications aimed at forcing a vote are thought to be uncommon. Larson said he has not encountered one before, and questioned why the university is eager to force a vote.

He noted Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 1975, which represents U of S support workers, negotiated for much longer over pensions before a strike was avoided and a contract settled.

“We wonder what the rush is when we’ve only been negotiating for seven months … It took a long time (with CUPE Local 1975) but they did get to something,” Larson said.

“We’re not even asking for the big salary increase over the years.”

Everyone acknowledges the U of S is under “immense financial pressure,” he added.

“We’ve basically agreed to what they’ve offered for the salary. It’s the merit (pool) and getting increments back to our people above the target point.”

Hunchak’s statement did not address why the university made the application, but noted that any vote is subject to LRB approval and a date has not been set.

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