On March 5, picket lines were set up at the entrances of Carleton University in Ottawa, as 850 support staff workers, members of CUPE Local 2424, struck to maintain contract language governing their pensions. The strike came after a last-minute mediation session on March 4 stretched to the early morning hours of the deadline set by the Union when it filed for a No Board Report with the Ontario Ministry of Labour.
The only outstanding issue is the Administration’s insistence on removing contract language that would give the union a say over changes to the Carleton University Pension Plan.
Carleton has one pension plan that applies to all full-time employees, both unionized and non-unionized, including those in the Employer categories. The Plan is controlled by the Board of Governors, taking its advice from a University-Wide Pension Advisory Committee with representatives from each stakeholder group, including employee groups such as CUPE 2424.
In a March 2 open letter in response to a misleading public statement from the Employer, CUPE 2424 outlined changes made over the past 15 years: “The Employer had implemented a series of very serious cuts to the benefit levels in the pension plan, including the elimination of an early retirement bridge, an increase to the penalty for retiring early, and – most dramatically – removing the protection in the plan against post-retirement benefit reduction (the ‘non-reduction guarantee’, which no other Ontario university with a hybrid plan has removed.”
When the Employer significantly increased the amount of payment employees are required to contribute to the plan in 2011, CUPE 2424 and CUPE 910 (representing maintenance staff), filed grievances claiming the changes were made without consulting them required by their contract language. A 2014 arbitration award stated that the Employer had violated its obligation to consult with the Unions before implementing the change.
In bargaining the Union had proposed to continue the increase in the 2011 contribution until its expiry date of 2021, but the Employer insisted in having the language removed, as had been done in the CUPE 910 negotiation in 2015.
The Union had a 93% strike mandate, and a rally on March 2 showed the solid support of its members. The picket lines on March 5 proved the members are determined to keep their pension protection in the Collective Agreement.
All the unions on campus support the members of CUPE 2424. They recognize the other changes to their pension rights were possible because they do not have collective agreement protection. CUASA, the faculty union at Carleton, wrote on November 2, ““Currently, we all benefit from provisions in the CUPE collective agreements which limit the ability of the pension committee (and by extension the employer) to make changes to the pension plan without the agreement of the effected unions.”
Also on March 5, CUPE Local 3903, the union of Teaching Assistants, Sessional Lecturers and Graduate Assistants, struck at York University. The two strikes show that the employers are still implementing the austerity agenda of the Ontario Liberal government, heading into the June 7 provincial election.
The 2014 strikes by CUPE 3903 and 3902 at the University of Toronto showed that with militancy and solidarity, unions can fight the neo-liberal agenda and win. Support from CUPE and the Ontario labour movement will be important in both strikes so that the successes of previous years can be continued in 2018.