University of Northern BC
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.
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
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.
This article was published in
Number 28 - November 27, 2019
University of Northern BC
Faculty Strike: Appropriate Compensation and Working Conditions for Professors, Librarians, Lab and Contract Workers Demanded