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Frustrated by contract talks, University of Alberta staff hold mock labour strike

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WATCH ABOVE: Frustration is building amongst staff at the University of Alberta as workers stare down the possibility of eight years without a raise -- and a pay cut. On Friday, dozens walked a mock picket line to show their employer what a real strike might look like. Dan Grummett reports – Nov 27, 2021

Dozens of University of Alberta staff members, including professors, librarians and researchers, held picket signs and chanted in favour of “fair contracts” in a union-led demonstration held near campus Friday afternoon.

Organizers said it was meant not only to train members how to picket, but also to send a message to the post-secondary institution that job action is not outside the realm of possibility.

“There’s a lot of emotion because the university has been asking us to take some very severe cuts,” said Samantha Spurrier, an executive assistant with the Non-Academic Staff Association which represents more than 5,000 staff.

Officially dubbed an “information picket,” academic and non-academic workers united to express frustration over recent bargaining negotiations.

The latest offer from the U of A, issued in November 2020, proposes a four-year contract, beginning with a three per cent wage rollback in Year 1 followed by three years without salary increases. This follows a previous four-year contract of zero wage increases, union leaders said.

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“It makes you wonder why you’re even doing this job at all,” said Erin Pollock, a faculty service officer who teaches upwards of 200 grad students in a master’s program in public health.

Pollock said she is disheartened by the proposed wage reduction and freeze, but also concerned by the university’s long-term ability to attract and retain quality educators.

“We have a Nobel Prize winner for his work on the (hepatitis C) vaccine. That is going to be a thing of the past.”

Relations between staff and school have been strained since the announcement of more than 1,000 layoffs last year in the wake of provincial funding cuts.

Read more: UCP denies University of Alberta request for budget flexibility, planned layoffs will go forward despite COVID-19 crisis

Organizers initially wanted to hold the rally on campus but did not receive permission from the university. Partway through the picket, the group marched to The Quad to continue the demonstration on school property in an act of defiance.

“It is the university’s wish to achieve labour stability through negotiated agreements and to avoid additional and unnecessary job losses,” the U of A said in a statement to Global News.

“The AASUA/NASA request to picket on North Campus was declined as picketing on university campuses and grounds is not permitted.”

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There has never been a labour strike by staff on the U of A campus.

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