Thompson Rivers University and its unionized support staff resume contract negotiations on Thursday — their first meeting since taking a mutual summer break.
And while both sides say they are ready to get back bargaining, it's unclear just how far they will get on key issues, such as wage increases.
"We're anxious to get back to the table," said CUPE Local 4879 president Lois Rugg. "(But) we're just not sure if TRU has the mandate to bargain or whether they're being controlled by another source, which in this case is the government."
On Tuesday, Rugg led about 150 of TRU's 600 CUPE members on a mid-morning walkout as the union staged its second job action in as many weeks.
The CUPE local was among five CUPE locals throughout B.C. to issue strike notice this month. So far, Rugg's members have followed up that notice with two rallies and a ban on overtime.
Tuesday's rally and walkout took place outside TRU's Open Learning building, which houses the university's online and distance learning programs.
It was expected to have only a limited effect on students.
"But it will get the employer's attention," Rugg said, as the union members began their two-hour walkout.
CUPE support staff perform a variety of jobs at the university, from utilities maintenance to course editing. They have not seen a wage increase since the collapse of the last contract almost three years ago. Depending on where they fit on the pay scale, the workers earn between $15 and $30 an hour, with the average wage being "less than $30," said Rugg.
Opening Learning delivery support worker Wilma de Jong said it's been tough not having a wage increase while facing rising costs in parking fees, for example.
"Our parking fees just went up 100 per cent," she said. "It used to be $300 per year. Now it's $600."
Workers are feeling the pinch in other areas, too, added a colleague of de Jong's, who did not want to be identified.
"Our wages are not going up with the cost of housing, the cost of food, kids' clothing, sports," the woman said. "We enjoy our jobs, we have a great environment, we just want to get some support from our employer."
TRU spokesman Christopher Seguin said he couldn't comment about "the issues at the table," only that he was optimistic about the return of bargaining this week and that the university would "try to create a fair and sustainable agreement."