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SSUO highlights “rushed passage” of Bill 124 as “major impediment” to reaching agreement

The union representing support and administrative staff at the University of Ottawa says their bargaining unit met with the university administration after 84 per cent of their members voted in favour of a strike mandate last month, but a tentative collective agreement was not reached. 

Support Staff University of Ottawa (SSUO) represents around 1,200 employees at the U of O, ranging from financial aid advisers and Student Academic Success Service counsellors to library staff and co-op specialists. 

The SSUO said in a bulletin that their bargaining unit “had good discussions (with the university) about some of the challenges to concluding a deal” on Nov. 12 and 13, adding that they are looking to meet again in December. 

The SSUO calls the “rushed passage” of Ontario’s Bill 124 a “major impediment” in the bargaining process. The bill, which received royal assent on Nov. 7, caps wage increases for public sector employees at one per cent annually over the next three years. 

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, of which the SSUO is a part of, said in a jointrelease on Nov. 7 that Bill 124 “tramples on collective bargaining rights and targets public sector workers with unfair austerity measures for the next three years.” 

“The legislation ensures that compensation for educators and other public sector workers will continue to fall behind the rate of inflation,” the Nov. 7 release reads.

SSUO said in their bulletin that a fair collective agreement “can only be achieved when both parties overcome these political obstacles.” 

The bargaining unit “will be taking into account the university’s academic calendar of important dates as it considers its options should a fair deal not be able to be reached after the next meeting dates.” 

In a statement to the Fulcrum, the U of O’s director of institutional communications Patrick Charette said that the university gave the union a “revised final offer” on Nov. 12, “reflecting the change in the status (royal assent) of Bill 124.”

“The union, in reply and within its counter-proposal, made it clear that the current context poses a challenge to accepting a proposal that seemed, on its face, to accept the conditions created by this bill,” said Charette. 

He added that “on its whole, the university’s proposal is fair and reasonable,” and said that the administration “remains hopeful that concessions made during the conciliation phase of bargaining will be enough to yield an agreement with our support staff.”

“We are confident that an agreement can be freely negotiated,” said Charette. 

The SSUO has been in the process of negotiating a collective agreement with the university since March. The last collective agreement expired at the end of April.

SSUO vice-president Jonathan Degan said in a statement to the Fulcrum last month that they have raised “multiple member concerns, including workload issues due to unfilled vacant positions which directly affect the student experience.” 

Degan added that more than 80 vacant positions that have been budgeted for remain unfilled.  

“It is time for the university to explicitly recognize your contributions and efforts through these negotiations and, work with us, to remind the Ford government that the money and resources spent in universities should be seen as an investment and not as an expense,” the SSUO said in their bulletin.