uOttawa support staff on strike after contract deadline passes

The University of Ottawa campus is quiet, Wednesday, April 22, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

The University of Ottawa warns students may see a slight disruption in some frontline services after 1,300 support staff members went on strike Monday morning.

The support staff bargaining unit at the University of Ottawa (PSUO-SSUO) of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF-FEESO) set a strike deadline of 12:01 a.m. Monday. The move came after contract talks on Thursday failed to result in a tentative agreement.

The University of Ottawa says academic and research activities will continue as scheduled.

"Courses will continue as usual and we will do our utmost to maintain services," said a statement from the University of Ottawa to CTV News Ottawa.

The University of Ottawa says it has "worked hard over the last 19 months" to try to reach an agreement with the union, "unfortunately, despite our best efforts we have been unable to do so."

"There's absolutely no reason to be optimistic unfortunately," said OSSTF President Harvey Bischof in an interview with CTVNewsOttawa.ca on Sunday afternoon.

Bischof added there's been no talks between the union and uOttawa since negotiations broke off on Friday.

"It comes down to this. We're working within artificially constrained bargaining because of Bill 124," said Bischof when asked about the main issues in the dispute.

"The university reduced its monetary offer, and yet they're continuing to erode medical benefits in the midst of the pandemic."

In November 2019, the Ontario Government passed Bill 124, which puts a cap of one per cent on wage increases for public service workers over three years.

Bischof says the university also wants to eliminate a small retirement payment for support staff.

The 1,300 employees include lab assistants, help run student labs, support faculty and administrative functions.

In a statement, OSSTF/FEESO PSUO-SSUO Bargaining Unit President Marcelle Desmornes said, "The members of PSUO-SSUO have stood strong against the employer's effort to strip health benefits and other provisions, with 80 per cent of the membership rejecting a final offer vote forced by the university in June."

"The bargaining team has no intention of bringing a tentative agreement to the membership that does not respect the contribution they make to this institution."

Bischof says there are plans to set up picket lines amid the pandemic.

"Protocols in place that would respect all of the health guidelines," said Bischof, adding groups would be capped at a maximum of 25 people and physical distancing requirements would be in place to help eliminate spread of COVID-19.