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U of S union calls for meeting over pension dispute as possible strike looms

CUPE Local 1975 workers at the U of S have been without a contract since late 2015 and the central issues include wages and pensions. Devin Sauer / Global News

Editor’s note: an earlier version of this story based on information from CUPE Local 1975’s president stated librarians were part of the union. That is incorrect. However, library assistants are members of the local.

Amid an ongoing debate over pension types and wages, the union representing University of Saskatchewan (U of S) support staff wants a meeting with the university’s “puppet masters.”

At a meeting of roughly 200 people, mostly union members, CUPE Local 1975 called for talks with the university’s board of governors and university president Peter Stoicheff.

READ MORE: Contract talks break down between University of Saskatchewan, CUPE

“They want negotiations to happen at the bargaining table, but … they’re the puppet masters and they’re not coming to talk to us,” said Ann Iwanchuk, the union’s lead negotiator.

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A wide range of non-academic support workers including security personnel, tradespeople and library assistants are among the 1,900 U of S workers who have been without a contract since the end of 2015.

Members voted in favour of a strike mandate in September, but job action isn’t possible because the sides have matters before the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board.

The earliest a strike could happen would likely be April, according to the union.

The parties went through ten sessions of mediation, according to Iwanchuk, before talks broke down last month.

Along with wages, the union’s defined benefit plan is a central issue – one which it is “not prepared to move away from,” according to the local’s president, Craig Hannah.

“All of our members have made it very clear. They want a predictable, dependable, secure pension when they retire,” Hannah said.

In December, CUPE proposed a jointly-sponsored pension plan, which it said would reduce the university’s cost and risk.

READ MORE: Judge dismisses petition to remove Saskatoon Co-op board of directors

The plan didn’t offer the certainty the university is looking for because it is “still a defined benefit pension plan with uncertain limits on the university’s contributions,” according to a statement from Gord Hunchak, the chief communications officer for the U of S.

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During the CUPE news conference, university negotiators agreed to return to the table, the union said. Hunchak’s statement did not state whether or not the board and president will also be there.

“The Board of Governors and senior administration have been kept fully up-to-date throughout this entire process and are supportive of the direction the university’s bargaining team has taken,” Hunchak said.

A hearing regarding whether support workers should be deemed an essential service is scheduled for Thursday.

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