Sessional lecturers and music instructors in contract talks with UVic

Sessional lecturers and music instructors will return to the bargaining table with the University of Victoria today after voting in favour of strike action last month.

CUPE 4163 president Greg Melnechuk said the union remains optimistic that a deal can be reached despite a lack of progress over the past five months.

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Thursday “is kind of our make or break kind of day,” he said in an interview. “The ball’s definitely in the university’s court.

“We had tabled what we believe is our final proposal a couple of weeks ago, so we’re just waiting to see what they come back with.”

Melnechuk said the 450 sessional lecturers and music performance instructors in CUPE 4163’s Component 3 teach about 30 per cent of the university’s students, but many have no idea whether they’ll have a job the next year.

“Our main fight right now is fighting for job security,” he said. “We’re talking about really the limited job security. This isn’t tenure. This isn’t permanent.”

He said the instructors are seeking pay increases in line with the province’s public sector bargaining mandate of two-per-cent hikes in each year of a three-year deal.

“Even though we are some of the lowest-paid session instructors in the country, living in one of the most expensive cities, we are not asking for more than what all the other public sector workers are getting,” Melnechuk said.

Kane Kilbey, UVic’s associate vice-president of human resources, said it’s not uncommon for a union to take a strike vote during the bargaining process.

“We respect their right to do so,” he said in a statement. “Strike votes are designed to encourage employers to move toward the union’s position on key bargaining issues. “It continues to be the university’s desire to reach a negotiated settlement at the earliest possible opportunity. We remain hopeful that this can be achieved without any disruption.”

Melnechuk said it’s the first time in the 20-year history of Component 3 that its members have voted in favour of strike action.

“It’s quite telling,” he said. “I’ve never seen this level of discontent before.”

If the union is not satisfied with the discussion today, Melnechuk said officials will have to consult with members to see how they want to proceed.

“We have to decide what kind of action we’re going to be taking and when we’re going to be taking that exact action,” he said. “But, again, we’re hoping none of it is necessary.”

The previous contract expired on April 30.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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