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Support staffers enter into arbitration as contract negotiations fail

Contract negotiations between SAIT and the union representing the polytechnic’s support staff are headed towards arbitration after mediated talks recently broke down.
A spokesman from the AUPE Local 039 Bargaining Committee, representing more than 600 administrative and technical emloyees at SAIT, says the union is dismayed and angered at the proposals SAIT proposed at contract mediation Dec. 6 and 7 in Calgary.
“We only had about a day and a half of mediation,” said AUPE staff negotiator Kevin Davediuk. “On the second day, the employer gave what it termed its best offer, and the AUPE SAIT committee was so shocked and outraged by it, talks were formally broken off.”
The collective agreement between the post-secondary institute and its support staff expired June 30. Negotiations began deteriorating almost immediately because of what Davediuk  called the institute’s “stubborn ideology.”
Davediuk said AUPE and SAIT met three times to negotiate a new contract, but the union broke off bargaining and filed a bad faith bargaining complaint with the Alberta Labour Relations Board mid-November.
Davediuk was hopeful the recent mediated talks would garner an agreement similar to that reached by SAIT’s counterpart, NAIT, on Oct. 1 following a co-operative round of negotiations lasting five days.
“It boggles our minds that they can’t pay us the same as NAIT,” said Davediuk. “SAIT is not broke. We’re trying not to overreact to this, but SAIT’s not taking us very seriously.”
SAIT spokesperson Heidi Sparks said the institute won’t engage in a debate in the media regarding bargaining issues, but added SAIT officials are also disappointed with the breakdown.
“We’re disappointed the mediation process with AUPE did not result in a collective agreement,” said Sparks. “It’s important to remember that negotiations, mediation and arbitration are all part of the collective-bargaining process that’s in place to allow both parties to come to a new collective agreement.”
SAIT students won’t be affected due to legislation that stops the institution from locking out its employees.
 The Public Service Employee Relations act also prevents support staff members from going on strike. However, Davediuk said other measures might be considered.
“It’s not our desire to disrupt students,” said Davediuk. “But we’re going to be listening to our workers. Workers can do things like refuse to work overtime or host legal pickets. It’s not our intent to interrupt students’ lives, but we really need the employer to listen.”
The union is lobbying for improved job security, choice in staff re-development, greater opportunities for career advancement through transparent job postings and wage settlements similar to those negotiated at NAIT.
The compulsory arbitration process could take anywhere from six to nine months to schedule, for a three to five day hearing.
“We’d rather have the money spent on legal proceedings go back into SAIT employees,” said Davediuk. “But we’re so far apart on so many things.”
“This reflects very poorly on the institution’s reputation and on president and CEO Dr. Irene Lewis and her entire executive. SAIT’s bargaining team is out-of-touch with the needs of ordinary working people.”
AUPE president Guy Smith called on Lewis, as reported in the Calgary Sun, to become involved in the talks.
“Ms. Lewis is aware of the issues, she understands the legal process and she is confident that the two sides will come to a resolution,” said Sparks.

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