The University of Western Ontario and campus Power Plant workers are scheduled to return to the bargaining table Dec. 15.
By mutual agreement, the two sides will continue discussions, postponing the possibility of a strike until Dec. 16 at the earliest. Originally, a strike date was set for Dec. 14.
The 10 members of the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 772 have been working without a contract since June 30, when their four-year contract expired. Bargaining talks on Nov. 20 involving a conciliator resulted in a no board report. The union then conducted a strike vote and received a unanimous mandate.
The power plant, which is operated by the Physical Plant department, is responsible for providing heating, cooling and compressed air to the university and London Health Sciences Centre – University Hospital.
Helen Connell, Associate Vice-President Communications and Public Affairs, says the university is hopeful of reaching a settlement.
“There is a long history of good relations with this union,” she says.
It has been more than 20 years since the Power Plant employees engaged in a strike.
Although IUOE Local 772 business manager Greg Hoath is unable to speak about specific details of the contract negotiations, he says the main stumbling blocks have been both monetary and non-monetary.
“We remain hopeful of reaching a tentative agreement for our members to ratify and will do all we can towards that end,” says Hoath.
Connell says the university is being prudent in preparing for the possibility of a strike, adding it will be business as usual on campus.
“Under the collective agreements with other unions, they are required to come to work,” she says, adding exams will run as scheduled and students are expected to attend.
Physical Plant managers licensed to operate the Power Plant will be staffing it during this time to make sure heat remains available to facilities on campus and University Hospital.
“We are doing our most to limit the amount of disruption and inconveniences this is going to cause other people on campus, although there likely will be some,” she says.
“It is important that we work as hard as we can to minimize the impact that might have on other people on this campus – the staff and students and others who come on campus.”
However, Connell says public transportation services would be affected by a strike, as the London Transit Commission will not cross the picket lines by coming onto campus. The university will arrange for alternate drop-off points around Western and is urging people to build in extra time for reaching work or getting to exams.
The university has launched a website with updates on the negotiations with IUOE Local 772. For more information on the contract negotiations, click here.