The University of Northern B.C. Faculty Association has called on its members to give it a strike mandate for the negotiating table.
Voting started Thursday on Prince George and Terrace campuses, and faculty can also mail in votes until the end of next week, said association vice-president Erik Jensen.
Jensen said it's important they come to the next negotiations with a majority of faculty in support of the potential for escalating action.
“A strong mandate vote will have weight at the negotiating table. We want to have the ability to say ‘Look we’re really serious about negotiating to a successful conclusion.”
Jensen said negotiations started last spring and in the fall both sides turned to a labour relations mediator “to jump start the negotiations.”
“Even that process only took us a certain distance and frankly got nowhere on our key goals in this round of negotiations,” said Jensen, which are improving post retirement benefits, salary structure, and program redundancy, a situation where where the university could potentially layoff faculty for non-financial reasons.
“UNBC is consistently rated as one of the top small university in Canada,” said Jensen, pointing to the university's recent second-place finish in Maclean's university rankings.
“But our salary structure puts us about 20 per cent below our comparator small universities in Canada.
“We’re really worried about being able to retain excellent faculty.”
The association voted unanimously to put the vote to members just before Christmas, which Jensen said helped move some issues in a positive direction.
The group sat down with the university negotiator last weekend and the next round of negotiations are from Jan. 23 to 25.
This will be the first collective agreement for the faculty, which unionized in the spring of 2014 with a 90 per cent vote, said Jensen. The university has almost 400 faculty members, according to its website, of which 194 are full-time and 204 are part-time.
The union will have a 90 day window, should it get a strike mandate, to implement some form of strike action, which Jensen said they are not taking lightly.
“We’re really concerned about the possible impact that this could have on the students should it come to [a strike] and so that’s something that we’re really weighing very carefully in our minds as we move forward.”