Capilano University Workers organized with MoveUP Local 378—which represents administrative staff across the university—have been on strike since June 6, against the administration’s effort to claw back their right to work remotely.
Echoing the PSAC strike that took place earlier this year, the core issue for CapU workers has been the inclusion of remote work protections into the collective agreement. They have been working remotely since the start of the COVID-19 lockdown and have proved working from home does not impact productivity. There is nothing to be gained from going back to in-person work, and it would only be an extra burden on workers’ time and on their finances.
MoveUP Vice-President Christy Slusarenko said “We have settled money and benefits. We have also agreed on remote work language, but the reason workers are out on strike today is because the university refuses to put those rules in the contract. They have admitted this publicly.” Whatever “flexibility” workers are offered today could be gone tomorrow, so long as there is no language in the contract clearly protecting work-from-home arrangements.
Winning the right to work from home would represent a new gain for the labour movement in Canada, one that could inspire other workers across the country. University representatives recognize this fact.. They have argued that no other universities have work-from-home language in their contracts, as if workers should never be allowed to win new demands. That is what is at stake in this strike. If workers win their right to work from home, it will set the tone for negotiations on this issue in other universities as well.
Picket lines mean do not cross
In an initial show of solidarity, the Capilano University Faculty Association (CFA) refused to cross picket lines, effectively shutting down all classes. The Capilano Students’ Union has also publicly advised students to respect the workers’ picket lines. Both are positive developments. Workers and youth, at the university and across the country, have a clear interest in supporting this strike. And, that starts with respecting the workers’ picket lines.
But, since the start of the strike, both the CFA and the student union have failed to consistently support the union.
The student union has the ability to work with MoveUp to provide active support to the strike, by using its resources to connect with students, educate them about labour struggle, and mobilize them to support picket lines. At CAPU however, the union has refused to do much beyond issuing a statement. By failing to lead, the student union has allowed some students to ally with the administration. Recently, a group of CapU students even made headlines for an online petition they circulated, seeking to “nudge,” the union into ending the strike.
In reality, students have everything to gain from siding with striking workers. A serious fight back against rising tuition, worsening wages, and for greater quality of education can be mounted much more effectively if students and staff are united. Students, by supporting and joining strikers’ pickets can help bolster morale and show the university whose side they’re really on. This can and should be organized by the students’ organizations.
Worse, as of June 28, the CFA has announced it will return to work, and classes are set to resume. This is, by all accounts, a plan to cross the workers’ picket lines. And, it will undermine the struggle of all workers. As MoveUP Vice-President Christy Slusarenko said, “Going on a full-scale strike was not a decision our members took lightly, but unfortunately the employer has forced our hand with their continued refusal to return to the bargaining table. MoveUP members understand that remote work is an equity issue, and they want to know the university is committed to equity and supporting workers’ rights by putting this language directly into the collective agreement.”
Victory to the workers
The strike is now in its third week, and MoveUp Local 378 have, to their credit, not capitulated on their demands, while the administration has continued to maneuver and play games. Most recently, the university made overtures towards an agreement on remote work, only to turn around and try to claw back previous points of agreement.
A victory for the CapU workers would be a victory for all campus workers, and workers in general. However, it will be very difficult for them to win on their own. The strike needs to escalate, which means that solidarity from faculty and students needs to escalate as well—not fade away, allowing classes to reopen. The struggle for better working and learning conditions is one that campus workers, faculty, and students must fight together.
An injury to one is an injury to all!
Victory to MoveUP!
Student solidarity is necessary!
Members of the public can support the workers at Capilano University stopping by the picket lines from Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and signing an online petition at MoveUPTogether.ca/capilano-petition to call on the university to return to the bargaining table.