The first day of strike action by support staff at Thompson Rivers University Thursday ended with a mid-campus rally that drew a crowd of about 150 unionized workers and supporters.
Picket lines went up around the empty facilities building, and later around the Clocktower building that mainly houses administrative staff, said Lois Rugg, president of CUPE 4879 which represents 600 TRU support workers.
Those two sites were chosen because they weren't expected to disrupt classes, she said.
Members of TRU's student union and faculty association also joined in, as did representatives from the United Steel Workers and B.C. Government and Service Employees Union.
A few students and some administrative staff have crossed the pickets, she said.
"Support staff haven't felt like they're being taken seriously. Some are living paycheque to paycheque," said Rugg.
About 60 to 70 union members walked off their jobs Thursday, while others joined the pickets and rally on their breaks.
TRU isn't the only campus affected by the support-worker strike. Simon Fraser, University of Victoria, UBC and University of Northern B.C. also had pickets Thursday.
The TRU workers' contract expired on March 31, 2010. The next round of bargaining is slated for Oct. 18 and 19.
Rugg said the job action is aimed at letting the employer know the union is serious about getting some concessions in the next contract.
TRU vice-president advancement Christopher Seguin said no classes were cancelled as a result of the pickets.
He did hear of some employees leaving their work stations, but he didn't know the full scope of the impact at this point.
There is a convocation scheduled for today that is expected to proceed, he said.
Rugg said the union has agreed not to take action so the convocation can go ahead without concerns.
Seguin said the university is preparing in anticipation of the job action continuing next week.
"We're going to try to minimize the effects on our students to the best we can," he said.
"We're looking forward to the 18th and continuing on negotiations."
Jennifer Crall has worked for TRU's Open Learning for more than five years. In that time, she received two wage increases — the last was in 2009. Since then, her daughter has started at university, the cost of living has gone up and parking fees on campus have doubled.
"I think everybody feels it," she said of the financial crunch of zero increases for the past three years.
Welding student Becky Raskauskas moved to Kamloops from Lillooet to take her seven-month course. She's in her first month, but she and her classmates are worried the strike will affect their classes because it's a hands-on program.
"If they picket, we can't do any work," she said, adding if she's affected she might have to withdraw to save money.
"Everybody in our group is freaking out. A lot of them took out student loans."
Natural resources student Jillian Caissie said she would respect the support workers' job action.
"They're exercising their right to go on strike," she said. She's heard students express worries about grades and exam schedules, but as the daughter of an active member of the B.C. Teachers' Federation, she understood where the CUPE workers were coming from.
"If they set up a picket, I won't cross."
TRU Student Union president Dustin McIntyre stepped up to a microphone at the rally to give his group's support to the CUPE staff.
"We know this fight is just and we stand in solidarity with you," he said.
Jason Brown from the TRU Faculty Association gave similar assurances. He slammed the B.C. government for its lack of funding for post-secondary education.
"If education's a priority, invest in the future of youth," he said.
John Hall of CUPE 3500, which represents school district employees, said while workers are getting zero increases, top administrators are getting bonuses as well as pay hikes.
"You're just asking to negotiate a fair collective agreement. You deserve it," he said.