The University of Northern BC and its faculty association are back at the bargaining table today as picket lines and strike action continues at the UNBC Terrace campus and other campuses across northwest B.C.
That follows a lunchtime rally yesterday at the Terrace campus that saw UNBC faculty association president Jacqueline Holler speak to about 30 members and supporters, including members of CUPE and others from Northwest Community College’s student union.
“All we are asking is to be one of the priorities when UNBC does its budgeting,” said Holler, of the faculty association’s position during negotiations.
Salary is top of mind 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.
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 last Monday, and erected picket lines Thursday.
University spokesperson Rob Vanadrichem said last week that the university had prioritized teacher wages in its budget, noting that aside from the five-and-a-half per cent over five years offer that is on the table, the university has increased wages five per cent over the last two years. He pointed to stalled enrolment and the fact that government funding has not increased in several years.
“If government grants aren’t growing and enrolment isn’t growing, then we have a fairly static revenue,” he said. “So it’s difficult to be able to just increase expenses to a level that some people may like but at the end of the day we have to do the right thing and operate the university in a sustainable way.
“We’re delivering a university in northern B.C.,” he continued. “We’re doing the best we can in a balanced way … for the sustainability of UNBC and all of the things we have to do to maintain a university – that includes maintaining a campus and funding regional campuses, and doing advertising, all of those other things that go with operating a university over and above the faculty salaries.”
The faculty association maintains that the university could choose to pay faculty members more and that the university’s books are healthy.
“It’s just bad management,” said Holler, pointing to $10 million the university spent on renovations while someone in the crowd at the rally brought up money spent on a 25th anniversary celebration.
Several UNBC students also attended the rally in an attempt to better understand the situation that is impacting their studies.
Third year nursing student Aleena Dye said she was “absolutely” concerned at the effect the strike would have on her semester, noting her and her classmates student nursing positions could be in jeopardy if they aren’t able to finish their clinical courses.
Dye said at the rally that the information being filtered to the students is unclear and sometimes feels biased, pointing to an email sent by the university to students that inferred the university had countered the latest offer by the faculty association. She said she hasn’t had any information directly from the faculty association so was glad to hear that point of view at the rally.
Ultimately, she said she supports our teachers and wants to see a university with “good instructors that can stay.”
Noting shortfalls in clinical instruction, she said she’s experienced instructors who leave right before classes begin because they have been offered a better paying job and other classes with instructors who don’t have the expected level of experience.
“We do definitely see it,” she said, of the faculty association’s claims.