A PSUO-SSUO member protesting
A member of the PSUO-SSUO protesting on Oct. 22. Image: Bridget Coady/Fulcrum.
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Students need the U of O’s support staff, especially in these hard times, so let’s get a fair deal done U of O!

*Beep-Beep!* *Meep-Meep!* *Hooooonk!*

*Crowd cheering*

These have been the sounds the Fulcrum’s staff have been hearing from their desks in the Fulcrum’s offices at 631 King Edward Ave. over the last week, we understand why these motorists are honking their horns. 

These honks and hollers are in solidarity with the 1,300 University of Ottawa Support Staff (PSUO-SSUO) members who are protesting against proposed benefit cuts from the U of O’s administration.

Those affected by the strike are the U of O’s lab coordinators, mental health counsellors and specialists, academic counsellors and assistants, financial officers, and library technicians.

Walking the picket lines, holding up signs, and chanting loudly are some of the heroes who have held the foundations of this institution together in the new reality we live in today. They are parents, seniors, and young professionals bonded together over the protection of their acquired benefits from the university’s administration and the Ford government’s Bill 124.

On Oct. 15, mediated negotiations broke down between both sides, leading the PSUO-SSUO to announce a strike mandate set to take hold on Oct. 19 at 12:01 a.m. barring a last-minute deal — a deal that did not take place.

Ever since the breakdown of those talks, there has been no return to the bargaining table from either side. In particular, the PSUO-SSUO has been clear that they will not budge on their healthcare plan — the U of O has proposed to cut the reimbursement for members’ medications from 100 to 80 per cent — an understandable no-go for the union’s members in the midst of a pandemic. The University is also attempting to reduce parental leave top-ups and lower retirement allowance

On Oct. 19, Karina Adam, the U of O associate vice-president of Human Resources, sent a press statement to the PSUO-SSUO with a new outline for a deal between the two parties that includes: 

“A coinsurance plan modified from our June offer; Wage increases that are the maximum allowable under current provincial legislation (Bill 124); Improvements to the job security provision that result in 100 new positions in the bargaining unit by including all temporary employees and reviewing vacant positions within 90 days; Benefit improvements that include: increasing psychological services and private hospital room coverage.”

The only real proposed change to June’s offer is with the unfilled vacancies. Jonathan Dagan the PSUO-SSUO vice president had mentioned to the Fulcrum in the fall of 2019 that “more than 80 vacant positions that have been budgeted for remain unfilled.”

This according to him had “raised multiple member concerns, including workload issues due to unfilled vacant positions which directly affect the student experience.” 

What the university did omit from its new offer are the PSUO-SSUO demands (listed above): mainly, the 100 per cent reimbursement for medication. 

“The benefits issue is absolutely fundamental because they are looking to force those people who have the highest needs when it comes to prescription medication to pay the cost of what they’re trying to gouge out of this bargaining unit and it’s an entirely unconscionable approach,” said Harvey Bischof, president of OSSTF/FEESO (the PSUO-SSUO parent union), to CTV in an interview on Oct. 23 which was posted to Twitter.

“It is really a matter of principle where for us the idea that those who have the highest medical needs should pay the most simply does not make sense.” 

If the U of O administration is truly trying to ‘gouge’ and reduce the amount it is willing to reimburse for PSUO-SSUO members prescription medications from 100 to 80 per cent, shame on them. That is a disgrace, and frankly, an insult to the hard work support staff do at the University of Ottawa. 

It is also unbelievably insensitive to cut healthcare costs of the U of O’s equivalent of ‘frontline staff’ in the middle of a pandemic. Most of these employees have been on campus during the pandemic ensuring that professors and students have all the necessary resources to succeed in the ‘new normal.’ It is worth noting that some of these employees have been deemed ‘essential’ for the sake of students. 

In that vein, the Fulcrum urges its former editor-in-chief André Picard to follow in the steps of former member of parliament Celina Caesar-Chavannes and cancel his homecoming event at the U of O scheduled for Oct. 29 and respect the ‘virtual picket line’ if the PSUO-SSUO and the university do not come to an agreement by then. 

We also urge students to go out and show their support to members of the PSUO-SSUO protesting on the sidewalks at the edges of campus.

Showing support for the PSUO-SSUO can be done in multiple different ways: it can be as simple as speaking with the members, grabbing a sign and protesting for an hour, or it can be a gesture such as buying a box of coffee from a popular coffee shop to warm up the support staff screaming their lungs out in the chilly October weather. 

Finally, and most importantly, we urge the university to defy the conventional and listen to the PSUO-SSUO, and get back to the table and negotiate a fair deal.

Editorials are written by the Fulcrum’s fourteen-person editorial board and express the shared opinion of Fulcrum’s editorial staff. To share your own views, email editor@thefulcrum.ca.