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Negotiations stalled at UNBC

The fifth day of the University of Northern B.C. faculty began and ended without plans for further negotiations.
The UNBC Faculty Association held a rally Saturday March 7 on the steps of the Prince George Law Courts.

The fifth day of the University of Northern B.C. faculty began and ended without plans for further negotiations.

Jacqueline Holler, president of the UNBC Faculty Association, said it hasn't heard from the administration since the bargaining teams last met Friday morning.

"We are a little surprised and I'm hearing from a lot of students who are surprised that we haven't heard back."

"I think that the university is open to considering flexibility within its financial envelope and I think that's been articulated," said Rob van Adrichem, UNBC's vice president of external relations. "I think the faculty association can respond and join us at the table, if they like."

With no scheduled return trip to the bargaining table, all of today's classes are cancelled.

The university has offered $4.5 million over five years, which includes no wage increases the first year, one per cent the second year and 1.5 per cent the final three years.

But Holler said the main problem is the approach to compensation. The association is not looking for a general wage increase, but rather a "re-mapping" of wages for individual faculty and changes overall salary scale.

"What we're looking for is not something that's across the board for everybody," said Holler.

Holler said faculty are often hired at market rate, but the gaps begin to appear among all ranks of professors - assistant, associate and full - the longer they stay. So, the professors who have taught the longest, also present the greatest gaps in compensation.

"That's a sort of bitter irony that the people who have given the most to UNBC are the most likely to be undercompensated," she said. "We are very clear that the concept we've proposed and that fixing the salary system are the only way forward."

She said the gap - in some cases a 20 per cent difference - in wages between UNBC and other universities needs to close so that UNBC is in a fair range.

Holler wouldn't comment on what range would be acceptable, saying she doesn't want to bargain in the media.

This "re-mapping" also comes with a cost, van Adrichem said.

"I think the university's costing of that is just beyond what we feel is affordable and reasonable given the circumstances given the current fiscal picture for UNBC," he said. "I think the compensation proposal from the university recognizes the gap and makes some significant effort to ensure it stops growing. If that's what the re-mapping is supposed to achieve, I think that the university's proposal is working to address that.

"But there is a fiscal situation here, too, and I think it's one thing to talk about re-mapping but it's another thing to truly understand the cost and that is where the university needs to be comfortable."

The faculty held a rally Saturday at the courthouse and the Northern BC Graduate Student Society has planned a rally at noon Thursday at the Canada Games Plaza.

According to its Facebook page, the rally is not meant to support either the administration or the faculty, but rather petition the provincial government to intervene in the negotiations.

"The uncertainty of the labour action has had profound impacts on students and we need to take a stand," the event page said. "We need the community support as UNBC is an integral part of this northern community."

-- with files from Charelle Evelyn

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