Union representatives from universities in Ontario, known as “fly-in pickets” joined UNBC faculty in their strike efforts on Nov. 22. (Brittany Gervais/Terrace Standard)

Anxiety mounts as UNBC faculty strike continues

Student graduation on the line if agreement isn’t reached soon, union says

It’s back to the drawing board for UNBC faculty and administrators after yet another proposal was rejected by the union on Thursday, Nov. 21.

Frustration is mounting on both sides, even though initially it seemed both the faculty and the administrators were keen to resolve the strike, which is now in its third week.

The faculty rejected the latest offer, which included a model detailing competitive wages. On Friday the UNBC administration said the offer still stands as negotiations ended ahead of the weekend.

“The offer still includes a superior compensation model featuring competitive wages. Importantly, the offer now includes the removal of non-monetary issues deemed as key rights by the FA,” reads a UNBC statement.

“The FA rejected the offer, although the employer has indicated that it remains open until Saturday afternoon. This offer is submitted with the intent of reaching a respectful agreement and for the betterment of UNBC.”

READ MORE: UNBC faculty strike enters second week in Terrace

UNBC faculty chief negotiator Ted Binnema noted, however, that the union’s swift dismissal of the latest offer had created tension between the two sides.

The union presented a counter-offer in the form of a complete settlement to Thursday’s proposal, which included five memoranda of understanding in response, Binnema says.

Binnema said immediately after dismissing the latest offer the administration’s chief negotiator called the union’s response “disrespectful” and asked the union members to leave the room ten minutes into their presentation.

“We know that this further delay will be frustrating for you, for CUPE and UniteHere staff who are supporting us, and for our students, whose semester hangs in the balance,” Binnema wrote. “We are anxious to conclude the new collective agreement and return us all—faculty, staff, and students alike—to campus.”

While concerns over salary have been mainly addressed at the bargaining table, Terrace UNBC associate professor Bruce Bidgood says the concessions requested by the administration would exclude certain employees like senior laboratory technicians and librarians from the new agreement and take away veto control from faculty for tenure.

“Many of those concessions would not be acceptable at any university in Canada,” says Bidgood, standing in the pouring rain with picketers outside the Terrace campus on Nov. 22. “Request for concessions are pretty normal, but they’re not usually as draconian as these ones. We’re talking about ones that are fundamental to our union.”

He stressed that if a deal isn’t reached by the end of next week the strike will have a significant impact on student education.

“We’re coming to the point in my program in social work where if our students don’t get their placements they can’t move on to their courses next semester. And those courses will not be offered again for two more years here in Terrace,” Bidgood says.

“So a student, because of this strike, may graduate three years later than they originally indented. That to me, is urgent. I wish that [administrators] would act like it was urgent.”

Terrace UNBC campus social work student Adelle Jonker said while she is supportive of the faculty strike, as more time passes anxieties over the future of her education are mounting.

“We’re a little worried that if they don’t come to an agreement that course isn’t going to run on time. That pushes graduation back for two years — we’d have to go to Prince George to finish it or wait for our degree,” Jonker says. “If they don’t come to an agreement and we don’t graduate, that’s another two years we have to put off starting our lives.”

Jonker and other students have sent letters to the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training to ask that they intervene and ensure a fair negotiation process.

She added that letters were also sent to the administration and the Board of Governors to let them know it’s the students who are suffering, too.

READ MORE: Faculty at Terrace UNBC campus join strike after failed negotiations

“We still believe the faculty has our best interests at heart. Without good faculty you don’t have a proper education. I hope they can come to an agreement soon,” she says.

Laurentian University professor and union executive member Jean-Charles Cachon travelled from Sudbury, Ont. to Terrace B.C. to show his support for UNBC strikers on Friday.

Cachon is known as a “fly-in picket,” meaning he travels across Canada to support other unions in their bargaining and job action efforts. Three fly-in picketers are currently in Terrace and seven are picketing in Prince George.

“It’s always the same issues. Employers try and get rid of the union. They try to have people give up their grievance rights and think that people in smaller communities shouldn’t be paid as much,” Cachon says.

“But we all have the same training. We do the same job and there’s no question people should have the same rights everywhere.”

A spokesperson with UNBC’s administration said chief negotiatior Barb Diagle will not comment publically on ongoing bargaining discussions.


 


brittany@terracestandard.com

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