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Carleton strike looming
By Aaron Wherry
Carleton University appears to be the next battle ground in the war over post-secondary education in Ontario, as teaching and research assistants at the Ottawa-based university are poised to strike next week.
According to Finn Makela, VP-external for the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the union representing the 1,200 teaching assistants and research assistants at Carleton, union members were voting yesterday, today and tomorrow on whether or not to give the union a strike mandate.
If the membership decides on a strike mandate, the union would be in a legal position to strike on Jan. 31, he explained, adding the union executive has reluctantly recommended its membership vote in favour of a strike.
"The last thing that we want to do is be forced to strike," he said.
Negotiations between the university and the union began June 30, but little progress was made and negotiations officially broke off Nov. 29 after a period of mediation, he said. Last minute talks have been scheduled to begin Jan. 29.
The major issues keeping the two sides apart include tuition indexation, class sizes and health benefits, Makela said, but explained accessibility to education is the overriding motivation for the TAs' fight.
Makela also accused the university of dirty tactics over the last few months. "They've tried to divide the student body and put out information that is false, if not misleading," he said.
Carleton administration released a statement explaining the current state of negotiations, said Janet Weichel-McKenzie, public relations officer for the university. The statement explained the university presented the union with a revised offer last week, which Carleton hoped would satisfy the union's demands.
According to the university, the latest offer presents satisfactory salary increases, as well as other concessions, she said.
Stephanie Goodwin, director of educational affairs for the Carleton Students' Association, said the CSA has taken a position in support of the union and will close its main offices in solidarity in the event of a strike.
The CSA is working to ensure students will not be punished if they do not wish to cross a picket line, she said, adding yesterday, a solidarity rally was held for union members and students to encourage support for the TA and RAs' cause.
The more than 10-week-long TA graduate assistant strike at York has acted as a rallying cry at Carleton, she said. "York set us up perfectly. Because of [the York strike], students see it's not about money it's about accessibility to education."