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Photo: Rame Abdulkader/Fulcrum

Almost 85 per cent supported a strike mandate as the SSUO negotiates collective agreement with university 

Support and administrative staff at the University of Ottawa have given their bargaining unit a strike mandate, with 84 per cent voting in favour. 

Support Staff University of Ottawa (SSUO), the bargaining unit, held two special assemblies on Thursday to update members on negotiations with the university and to hold the strike mandate vote. The results of the vote were released on Friday. 

The “SSUO is extremely satisfied with the vote results and hopes it signals to the university it’s time to conclude an agreement,” said SSUO vice-president Jonathan Degan in a statement to the Fulcrum on Saturday. 

The SSUO represents around 1,200 employees, ranging from financial aid advisers and Student Academic Success Service counsellors to library staff and co-op specialists. 

The SSUO has been in the process of negotiating a collective agreement with the university since March, meeting 16 times so far and as recently as Sept. 16, said Degan. The last collective agreement expired at the end of April.

“The union raised multiple member concerns, including workload issues due to unfilled vacant positions which directly affect the student experience,” said Degan. “To date, these concerns have not been adequately addressed at the bargaining table.” 

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

“We hope to be back at a table soon and that the employer comes with concrete solutions to address the staffing levels on campus that will respect the services support staff provide for the student experience,” he said. 

Degan also highlighted incoming threats to the university’s provincial funding under a new model from the Ontario government, launching in March 2020. 

Twenty-five per cent of funding for universities will be tied to 10 performance measures, including job outcomes for graduates and their median revenue, putting around $65 million in funds at risk for the 2020-21 academic year, according to the university. In the 2024-25 academic year, 60 per cent of funding will be tied to the performance measures, putting about $165 million at risk.

Degan said many of these performance measures are directly linked to services provided by the SSUO’s members. “The time to invest in student services is now,” he said.

The U of O administration responded to the strike mandate vote in an email to the Fulcrum on Friday. 

“The university is aware of last night’s vote,” said director of institutional communications Patrick Charette. “We understand the union’s decision. At this point, both parties continue to discuss via the conciliator appointed by the province. The university is confident that an agreement can be reached through this process.”

More to come.