University of Northern BC Faculty Strike

Appropriate Compensation and Working Conditions for Professors, Librarians, Lab and Contract Workers Demanded

UNBC Faculty Association picket line, November 11, 2019.

Faculty Association members at the University of Northern BC (UNBC) whose contract expired on June 30, served 72-hour strike notice on November 4 and initiated strike action on November 7. Negotiations for a new contract began on March 5, but were not progressing despite an 84 per cent strike mandate and subsequent mediation efforts. The nearly 350 Faculty Association members include tenured and tenure-track faculty, term and sessional instructors, librarians, and lab instructors.

A central issue in the negotiations is bringing an end to the substantial discrepancy in salary structure and compensation received by UNBC faculty members in comparison to professors at other Canadian universities with UNBC currently ranking 98 out of 100, according to Faculty Association President Stephen Rader. Rader further points out that efforts to fix the salary structure have been ongoing for many years, including through a strike during the last round of negotiations in 2015. Failure to address this discrepancy is not only of concern to current UNBC faculty members, but is also an impediment to hiring good quality new faculty members as an increasing number of retirements take place over the next 5 to 10 years.

Professors' salaries are not the only issue. Of equal concern is compensation for librarians, lab instructors and those in precarious part-time and term contract positions -- a growing component of university academic staff across Canada which makes it increasingly difficult for workers to plan and meet the needs of themselves and their families.

UNBCFA members have also made it clear that they will never agree to concessions proposed by the administration that would change crucial collegial governance language "in exchange" for addressing the salary issues and/or the precarity concerns of part time and contracted members. As pointed out in the UNBCFA Bargaining Bulletin #14: "The Employer has tabled a number of proposals on matters such as tenure that are crucial to the way universities traditionally operate. These proposals are unacceptable to the Faculty Association because they would diminish collegial governance and would make UNBC an unattractive place for faculty to work -- even if our salaries were higher."

The bulletin continues: "On the issue of salaries, the parties may be converging, albeit slowly. The Faculty Association has been working on the salary issue for the better part of a decade, through three rounds of bargaining, two arbitrations, and a strike. All our resolve has been and is directed towards one goal: a settlement that will ensure serene labour relations at UNBC for the foreseeable future. The UNBCFA is eager to achieve a Collective Agreement that provides as much assurance as possible that students, faculty, and staff three years from now will not face the kind of uncertainty -- or job action -- that they do now."

Both sides returned to the bargaining table on November 12 and exchanges continued off and on all week. After negotiations broke down over the weekend of November 23-24 the Faculty Association requested that the Minister of Labour appoint a mediator, a request that was supported by the university. Late in the day on November 26 the government announced that a special mediator will be appointed. 

Rally held the day before the faculty strike began, November 6, 2019.

Support for the UNBCFA is widespread and visible on the picket lines in Prince George and Terrace and at regional sites in Quesnel and Vancouver. Colleagues from CUPE locals representing support staff and teaching assistants and food services staff in UNITE HERE Local 40 have been walking the lines with Faculty Association members since day one of the strike. Union and community members from Prince George and across the province have shown their support by joining pickets and rallies, writing letters to the UNBC administration and Board of Governors, making donations and spreading the word about the issues the Faculty Association is determined to have addressed.

Despite the challenges they face in terms of their studies, students have been visible in their support of Faculty Association members -- organizing marches, joining the picket lines and expressing their concerns to the UNBC administration. One example is a recent letter to the Board of Governors and UNBC President from the graduate and undergraduate students who serve as UNBC Research Ambassadors. In part they state: "We've witnessed first-hand how deeply faculty and staff at UNBC love and promote our university and community.... We are devastated to learn of the inequitable treatment of faculty, instructors and staff .... We are disappointed that the UNBC Administration is not upholding the values ... that originally attracted us to choosing this educational establishment and acting as student leaders through the Research Ambassadors program.... We will continue to abstain from all Research Ambassador activities to demonstrate our solidarity with the Faculty Association."

Support and solidarity from the Canadian Association of University Teachers and faculty unions across the country has also been significant including financial assistance, messages of solidarity, and letters to the UNBC administration. One such letter to the Chair of the UNBC Board of Governors, from the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations states, in part: "As evidenced by a variety of rankings, UNBC faculty are amongst the most accomplished and dedicated in the country, yet their pay consistently ranks amongst the worst in the country. It is simply unacceptable that the administration would continue to attempt to leverage concessions from librarians and precarious contract faculty in exchange for the most modest of wage adjustments. It is also alarming that the administration is asking for concessions on collegial governance in exchange for their wage proposal."

Support from across the country was underlined with the arrival of "flying pickets" from 15 post-secondary institutions from as far away as Memorial University in Newfoundland and Labrador joining the picket lines and a noon hour rally at UNBC on Friday, November 15.

Faculty are joined on the picket line by UNBC support staff.

Food services workers show their support for striking UNBC faculty.

(With files from UNBC Faculty Association and Prince George Citizen. Photos: UNBC Faculty Assn, )

This article was published in

Number 28 - November 27, 2019

Article Link:
University of Northern BC Faculty Strike: Appropriate Compensation and Working Conditions for Professors, Librarians, Lab and Contract Workers Demanded


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