It's disheartening to hear a UNBC professor mislead the public with shady math while standing on the picket line.
Even though Dr. Jon Swainger's academic expertise is in history, not math, he shouldn't get a free pass for his comment that he makes one-third less than his counterparts across Canada. It's a ridiculous and embarrassing complaint, even if it is true.
Here's the problem with whining about being below average in wages or anything else: half the folks will always be above average and half will always be below average. That's Grade 7 arithmetic and it's got nothing to do with fairness.
But let's go with Swainger's concept of fairness to expose his argument further. Even if UNBC were to grant him a big pay raise and make his salary the average national rate for professors, he still wouldn't be average.
Imagine there are 10 schools and the pay rate goes like this: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. The average pay is 5.5 (total of 55, divided by 10). Now let's say UNBC faculty are paid 3. Bumping them up to 5.5 gets them up to average, except that the average has now moved to 5.75 (new total 57.5, divided by 10).
Let's really be fair and increase everyone below average to the 5.5 average. That's great, except doing so bumps up the average among the 10 schools to 6.75.
"I just ask anyone to think about that," Swainger went on. "How many people would be prepared to subsidize their employer for one third of your salary?"
If that question was posed to garner support, it fails miserably, sir, because many people already do.
Let's start with UNBC administration, for example.
Former president George Iwama's pay in 2012/13, including pension and benefits, was just over $300,000. Dr. Dermot Kelleher was named this week as the new dean of the faculty of medicine at UBC. Starting in September, Kelleher will overlook UBC's medical school, of which the Northern Medical Program at UNBC is a part. His pay, not to be president of UBC but just a senior dean, will be $500,000.
In other words, UNBC doesn't pay its senior administration as much as what other schools pay. If Swainger is sincere in his fairness argument, he should also want UNBC to pay its senior administrators the national average for pay.
Outside of academia, similar rules are at work. Take the newspaper industry in B.C., for example. The top rate for a reporter at the Campbell River Courier-Islander is $22.22 an hour. The comparable hourly reporter wage is $24.90 at the Penticton Herald, $26.79 at the Trail Daily Tiimes, $28.60 at the Kelowna Daily Courier, $33.43 at the Citizen and $44.61 at the Vancouver Sun and Province (there is no privacy violation here - Unifor has copies of its contracts posted on its website).
In the newspaper sector, as in many other industries, including academia, there is a pecking order and it's reflected in pay. Reporters have left the Citizen over the years to go to the Sun and other Canadian metropolitan dailies. In exchange for the hefty pay raise, they have a significantly higher cost of living and they spend far more time travelling to and from work because they live further away.
Swainger and his fellow faculty members on the picket line also think too much of their school. UNBC is the Trail Daily Times of the B.C. post-secondary sector - a small, isolated operation that pays its staff a decent but not great wage. Sure, UNBC has its Maclean's rankings and they are well-deserved but that doesn't translate into bigger pay cheques. The Citizen has one Michener Award, Canada's highest honour for public service journalism, to its name, the exact same number the Vancouver Sun has. Point being, awards are nice but they don't change the employer's size, revenues or ability to pay.
In the B.C. newspaper industry, as in many others including post-secondary education, the big dollars are available at the elite institutions. Swainger and any other UNBC faculty member who want UBC pay are free to go there... and pay $1 million for the average detached home in Metro Vancouver.
If the UNBC faculty association's bargaining committee is made up of members who throw around faulty math at the negotiating table as foolishly as Prof. Swainger does on the picket line and expect to be taken seriously, this could be a long strike.