By Allie Smyth
In the highest voter turnout ever achieved, members of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees Local 52 overwhelmingly rejected the final offer proposed by the University of Calgary, with 85 per cent of members voting no.
The proposed deal included a 3.5 per cent salary increase with an additional 0.5 per cent rolled over into wages for those members who were not currently eligible to receive it.
"I certainly expect the membership of Local 52 to continue to fight for what they believe is fair and equitable increases to their salaries," said AUPE Local 52 Co-chairperson Shirley Maki.
AUPE Local members include all non-academic support staff on campus who are employed by the university. The union, whose services were declared essential by the provincial government in the 1970s, is not in a legal strike position.
On May 15, AUPE member Wesley Morgan organized a "Vote No" rally attended by 300 AUPE members. According to Morgan, attendance at the rally indicates that members of Local 52 are willing to take a stand, and no longer want to be known for uncritically accepting any offer made by the university.
"People are trying to support themselves and their families," said Morgan. "They wrestle with the decision to leave the university environment. They should not have to choose–they deserve to be recognized and paid fair wages for what they do. To lose these people would hurt the university."
AUPE Local 52 Co-chairperson Dan Tilleman said the university’s response to the "no" vote will most likely be interest arbitration, in which the university and the union present their case before an arbitration board which will make a binding decision to be imposed on both parties.
"The most likely scenario for the time frame by which the process is completed would, on the optimistic and quick side, be in the fall," said Tilleman.
According to AUPE member Barbara Jenkins, as the provincial economy is booming, union members would like to see a return on the five per cent rollback they voluntarily accepted in 1994. Most members are concerned with the rising cost of living and seek a competitive wage. Jenkins hopes that by rejecting the present deal and lobbying both the university administration and the provincial government, the Union will receive a better offer.
"A negotiated settlement would be preferable," stated Tilleman. "But the university has neither the funds nor the willingness to renegotiate. Their hands are tied."
Tilleman also added that the union is "willing and available to return to the table for negotiations."
The issue for students remains the quality of an affordable education.
"Any job action will affect [students]," said Tilleman, "but the main consideration needs to be what is right and fair for our membership. Someone is making a sacrifice here to keep the institution running."
University representatives could not be reached for comment.