Security services faced with possibility of a lockout

After being in negotiations with the university over their collective agreement since August 2009, University of Manitoba Security Services (UMSS) employees may be faced with a lockout imposed by the university if they decide to reject the university’s final offer.

This essentially means that security services employees would be barred from the campus, not permitted to report to work and would not be getting paid.

“Its unprecedented at the university. I’ve never heard of it before, and I’ve been around for quite a while,” said John Urkevich, a business agent for the Association of Employees Supporting Education Services (AESES).

AESES is the exclusive bargaining agent for support staff at the university who represents UMSS.

According to an update posted on the U of M website, the major issues both parties have been negotiating over include shift schedules, staffing levels and increases in annual salaries.
Urkevich said he felt there had not been much “actual negotiations” between the university and UMSS with respect to the original proposals AESES-UMSS put forth.

“From our point of view, they’ve been negotiating extremely hard. They certainly haven’t been problem solvers,” said Urkevich.

In terms of salary increases, AESES-UMSS is asking for a 2.9 per cent increase for next year, with an additional 2.5 per cent increase in each of following the two years.

Both parties have agreed on the 2.9 per cent increase, but the university has rejected AESES-UMSS’ request for the additional yearly increases.

AESES-UMSS will vote on whether or not to accept the university’s final offer of settlement on Aug. 19 and 20.

“If the offer is rejected, it will be the university’s position that further negotiations will not be beneficial and the university will be proceeding with a lockout effective 7 p.m. on Aug. 20, 2010,” said Andrea Moore, staff relations officer at the University of Manitoba, in a letter to Urkevich.

Chris Rutkowski, a spokesperson for the university, stated that the institution is primarily concerned with the safety and well being of staff, students and guests of the campus, and believes the university had made a fair offer to the union.

However, the university feels they have reached an impasse with UMSS.

“We are faced with limited resources. Our final offer balances the competing realities of those limited resources with our desire to ensure staff are treated fairly and equally,” said Rutkowski.
Rutkowski explained that AESES-UMSS is in the position to call a strike vote at any time.

“In the event that this occurs, we cannot risk leaving the campus without any security personnel on duty,” said Rutkowki, in regards to why threatening UMSS with a lockout was necessary from the university’s point of view.

If a lockout does take place, the university will enlist the services of a private security firm to ensure the university is not left without security on campus.

University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) president Heather Laube stated that UMSU is concerned that the university is using what she felt were confrontational bargaining practices with AESES-UMSS, and said it was “indicative of a hardening and confrontational attitude of the central administration towards the various bargaining units.”

Laube said that she felt that private security firm personnel would not be as familiar with the campus nor members of the university community as UMSS officers, and would lack the experience of maintaining campus security during events such as Orientation Week, when there are many more students on campus than usual.

“Students and their families have an expectation that the university will be secured by experienced and qualified staff, something which will not exist if UMSS is locked-out,” said Laube.

“In essence, the threat to lock out UMSS staff is a threat to the security of our members, and we reject the university using student safety as a bargaining chip.”

Laube stated that UMSU council would be discussing what action they will be taking in regards to this issue at their next council meeting on Aug. 19.