UPEI support staff file for conciliation after contract talks break down

A CUPE local representing 280 support staff at the University of P.E.I. has filed for conciliation after talks broke down, the union says.

CUPE says issues for 280 employees include wages, right of return, retirees health costs

Negotiations between UPEI and 280 support staff have stalled. CUPE has requested conciliation. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

A CUPE local representing 280 support staff at the University of P.E.I. has filed for conciliation after talks broke down, the union says.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 1870 applied for a provincial conciliator on Nov. 28, CUPE said in a statement released Wednesday.

The employees include "technical staff, programmer analyst and administrative support service classifications." The union says they work throughout the campus, including the Robertson Library and Atlantic Veterinary College.

The university's proposals to the union are "non-starters," CUPE national representative Bill McKinnon told CBC News.

4 issues

"The last nail in the coffin at the table was that they didn't want to make the wages retroactive, which is unprecedented at the university," he said. "Obviously our members were not going to agree to that." 

McKinnon said other issues include:

  • The offered percentage wage increase is smaller than what was offered to the faculty association. "The employer negotiated twos with the faculty association and they've only offered us 1¾ for each of the years."
  • The costs of the health and dental plan for future pensioners would rise substantially. "Now members pay about ten per cent of total costs of benefits," he said. "The employer wants pensioners to pay 45 per cent now. So from 10 per cent to 45 per cent in one fell swoop when the trust has a $1.1 million surplus in it as of 2016. It's absurd and there's no reason for it and it came right out of left field."
  • Employees right to retain their seniority after they've been laid off would be reduced from five years to two years. McKinnon said the union only recently reduced the timeframe from unlimited to five years. "It doesn't cost the university anything." UPEI officials say this only applies to support staff who are on contract, which is about 20 per cent of Local 1870 members. 

MacKinnon said the province has agreed to support conciliation, with that person's appointment effective Dec. 12. He or she acts as a neutral mediator and helps both sides resolve impasses.

"The University of Prince Edward Island looks forward to getting back to negotiating a collective agreement with CUPE 1870 with the assistance of a third-party conciliator that has been appointed by the government of Prince Edward Island," the university told CBC News in an e-mail statement.

"A conciliator has been assigned to assist UPEI and CUPE reach a negotiated agreement. The university is confident that the appointment of an independent third party will allow both parties to resolve outstanding issues."

CUPE expects the earliest the two sides will sit down again would be January. 

With files from Laura Chapin