After a two-week faculty strike, UNBC students will be back in class on Friday.
The university announced last night that it has applied to the Labour Relations Board for a special mediation process available to those involved in negotiating a first collective agreement.
The recently established faculty association union, which represents 360 instructors and others, has been in negotiations and then mediation with the university since last May in an attempt to reach a first agreement. The union issued 72-hour strike notice Monday, March 2 and erected picket lines, including at the Terrace campus, March 5.
The university’s application means the faculty association strike must end – but if mediation fails again, the union can resume strike action.
“This is not the optimal way to be returning to work,” said Terrace faculty association representative Bruce Bidgood on the university’s application, which will have both parties work with an independent mediator to try to reach a contract agreement in the coming weeks. “It’s heartening because we believe our case is compelling and that any independent body reviewing the situation of the faculty members at UNBC will see the clear logic of the rationale for the increases in pay and maintenance of academic integrity in terms of the governance of the university.”
A statement from UNBC president Daniel Weeks released last night reads, “It has become increasingly clear that the faculty association strike is having a significant impact on our students’ lives and the entire UNBC community. We deeply regret this.”
Weeks goes on to write that he the university hopes an agreement can be reached and there is no further job action.
Bidgood said further job action is an option if the two sides can’t come together, but he is “cautiously optimistic” despite worries that the timeline could undermine the faculty’s bargaining position.
“In an ideal world the mediator will come up with a reasonable and well-considered solution which is acceptable to both the employer and the employees and we’ll have a first contract,” he said. “If everybody does this in good faith we’ll come up with a first contract for UNBC Faculty Association.”
Salary is the main issue for the union, who says UNBC professors are paid significantly less than their counterparts across the province and country – and that the salary model is not only unfair, but makes it difficult to attract and retain high-quality professors.
“We can dither about numbers, but unless there is recognition by the administration that our salary grid system is broken and needs repair, we simply can’t go back,” he said, likening the salary situation to a leaky tire that the administration keeps filling with air instead of fixing the flat. “One-time money doesn’t solve this.”
The president of UNBC’s Northern Undergraduate Student Society released an open letter yesterday, urging the two sides to compromise – quickly.
“Speaking on behalf of the undergraduate students at UNBC, we are disappointed with the lack of progress made in negotiations during the strike. It is imperative that both sides come to a compromise. At this point, nobody is going to attain what they set out to get in the beginning,” wrote Angela Kehler.
Here is a graphic showing how the next few weeks of mediation could play out: