Student services workers took to the picket lines March 15 over contract disputes for the second time this school year. The 24-hour walk-out severely limited the services at the Birks Student Service Centre and closed down the offices of Health Services.
Student service centre manager Loraine Tescano wasn’t surprised that the CUSSU (Concordia University Support Staff Union) mandated a strike. She didn’t receive any advance warning.
“I didn’t know about it until this morning . . . We’re trying not to penalize students because of the strike, and we’re doing everything we can to offer services,” said Tescano.
Nine out of a total of 11 Birks’ centre staff members were missing, and Tescano believes that the walk-out reduced their services to students by half. Financial transactions could not be processed, nor could they make student ID cards. Roughly 600 students are served at the centre on a regular day.
Health Services could not be reached for comment. Their offices on both SGW and Loyola campuses were closed due to “unpredicted circumstances,” according to their answering machine.
This strike wasn’t the first as they picketed on the first day of class in September of 2006, and it might not be the last. Legally allowed to picket three times during a year, CUSSU has mandated to use these strikes as “pressure tactics” to be used in the negotiation process. They promised if they fail to reach an agreement with the administration when they meet March 23, they will walk out again for 24 hours as it did on Thursday. If they ever resort to a third strike, they said it would last “indefinitely.”
Speaking to The Concordian on behalf of CUSSU, Union President Andre Legault said the current offer on the table was based on a salary increase of 3.5 per cent from 2002-2006, to make up for working without a contract for the past four years. However, this collective agreement would expire in May this year. “I don’t know why [the administration] thinks this is a reasonable offer,” said Legault.
Legault said that “ideally” their contract whould last until May 2009. The union submitted a counterproposal March 2, and the two sides will reconvene for talks March 23.
Support workers were out last Tuesday at Loyola for a lunch-time protest to maintain their visibility.
Director of Media Relations Chris Mota said student services were “slowed,” causing an “inconvenience.” She said the university is doing everything it can to ensure the services continue in times of a strike. As for the contract dispute, she expects the negotiations to end positively.
“We’re optimistic going in. Nobody wants to prolong the negotiation process. We want to resolve this issue as quickly as possible,” Mota said. She added that future strikes can be avoided once the administration settles the contract dispute.