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Union demands wage increases; university finds temporary replacements

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Security staff at Carleton University moved to strike early Monday, March 10 and have set up picket lines at Bronson and University Avenues.

After three days of negotiations, security staff and teaching assistants at Carleton could legally strike as of 12:01 a.m. March 10. Teaching assistants have remained in talks and on the job.

Members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), namely patrol services, had a negotiation deadline of March 9. The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), of which the teaching assistants and contract instructors are a part, was also in a legal position to strike by March 10.

The OPSEU has been in negotiations with Carleton since October.

Recent negotiations took place March 7–9 to discuss wage increases, as the pay for Carleton security staff is well below the standard for comparable positions at other major universities, OPSEU spokesperson Nelson Ross Laguna told the Ottawa Sun.

“All we are asking for is what is fair. These workers deliver around-the-clock safety services to students on campus, and deserve at least some basic respect from their employer. Many of them are earning barely more than minimum wage,” he said.

The growing student population and stagnant number of security officers is another concern, he added. According to Laguna, the number of students and staff at the university has grown significantly to approximately 30,000 from 20,000 in the last seven years.

Special Constable Devon Reeves, a Carleton campus safety officer, was out picketing March 11.

“From what I understand, a basic entry-level Garda security guard makes around $13 to $14 an hour,” he said. “There are also student security guards at York University getting paid $14 to $15 an hour. This seems like a fair wage. These guys bust their asses and are doing shifts from midnight to 7 a.m. and are not getting any premium for it, not getting any help on tuition for it, and are getting paid cents more than minimum wage.”

Carleton has hired Garda security personnel as temporary replacements. University spokesperson Don Cumming told the Sun that the university is confident in the interim replacement security staff.

“They have similar experience at similar types of properties,” he said. “We do believe the campus is safe and is to be safe next week.”

However, union representatives say it’s a security risk because the replacement staffers are not sworn officers of the Ottawa Police Service.

“Our members can use force, make arrests, and detain,” Laguna said. “These services are not replaceable.”

The Ottawa Citizen reported that a student found her roommate unconscious March 10 — on the first day of the strike — and was unable to reach an emergency responder. University officials, however, said the level of service remained the same at that time.

Reeves said the university has seen 135 per cent turnover in special constables from 2006 to 2012. He added that the issues faced are the same as at any other local.

“How do you go from the highest tuition in the country but you’re paying your workers the lowest wages?” he asked. “It’s like squeezing blood from a stone.”

The school has remained open.

—With files from Karen Ladouceur