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Carleton University stays open as contract talks continue

Carleton University
Strike or no, Carleton University is open for teaching.

The university and unions representing contract instructors, teaching assistants, and campus security staff spent the weekend in contract negotiations, but late Sunday evening there was no word of a last-minute settlement. If none was reached the two sectors — units of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 4600 and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, Local 404 — would be in a position to strike as of 12:01 a.m. Monday.

“It”s too close to call at this point,” OPSEU negotiator Nelson Ross Laguna said Sunday evening in describing the negotiations. “(We are) currently in bargaining.”

Carleton University officials, meanwhile, were quick to reassure students that the campus would be open regardless of any strike, posting a notice on the university’s website that classes would carry on and students were expected to attend. However, the website also noted that “it is too early to tell” if a disruption mean a longer term or rescheduled exams.

Campus officials also expressed confidence security could be maintained in the event of a strike, with managers and contract security officers patrolling the grounds. The university, they said, was “committed to providing a safe and secure campus environment for everyone during any job action.”

OPSEU agents have questioned the university contingency plan to replace any striking special constables with security guards, with Laguna saying that since they aren’t “officers sworn by Ottawa police,” student safety was at risk. “Our members can use force make arrests and detain,” he said. “These services are not replaceable.” Security guards, on the other hand, have only “observe-and-report status.”

“If these workers are forced to go on strike we don’t see how campus safety can be maintained in their absence,” said Laguna.

There are 50 Carleton University safety workers, including special constables, dispatchers, campus safety officers and student safety patrollers. They are seeking a first contract after organizing nearly one year ago. Wages and staffing levels are the main issues.

“Carleton University says they value the importance of student safety on campus,” said OPSEU president Warren Thomas. “Now it’s time to for them walk the talk and invest in their front line staff.”

The 2,500 members of CUPE Local 4600 are also after more money and better working conditions. Last week, union officials said if an agreement had not been reached by Sunday night “we are committed to beginning strike action in order to increase the pressure on the employer to settle.”

Contract instructors and teaching assistants were told that in the event of a strike they were expected to cancel their classes, labs and tutorials. Exams and other events may also be cancelled if they included the participation of contract instructors and teaching assistants, the union said. Both groups were also expected to not do any marking or even to respond to emails.

Meanwhile, the Carleton University Academic Staff Association, which represents faculty, and the Support Staff Union (CUPE Local 2424) issued advisories to their members saying that they “should not perform work of employees who are on strike.” However, they are responsible for fulfilling their own duties regardless of any picket lines. (OTTAWA CITIZEN)


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