UNBC professors to fight for colleagues, rally told

University of Northern British Columbia professors can look forward to generous increases in their salaries but will still take to the picket lines in the name of the people who support their work.

"They are offering almost nothing to our colleagues - the lab instructors, the librarians and the other members of our union - and personally, I could not walk through the hallways and look my colleagues in the eye if I had taken a large raise and they got nothing," UNBC Faculty Association president Stephen Rader said during an energetic midday rally Wednesday at the campus' Winter Garden. "

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Members will be in a position to strike on Thursday morning.

Rader, a chemistry professor, said UNBC adminstration's latest offer will finally answer professors' long-running quest to bring their salaries in line with those of comparable universities but at the cost of leaving the rest of the academic staff who make up the Faculty Association out in the cold.

"I believe that only somebody who did not understand the importance and significance of respecting all of the employees would even make an offer like that," he said. "How could they imagine that faculty would accept this deal?"

About 250 people, many of them wearing "I Support Our Professors" buttons, attended the rally. Rader was the first of a parade of speakers.

Dana Wessell Lightfoot, an associate professor of history, said the offer "threatens to destroy" collaborative relationships between full-time faculty, sessional instructors, librarians, senior lab instructors, staff and students.

"For that reason, I urge all of you to support the UNBC FA in its effort to achieve a fair and equitable contract for all members of this union," Lightfoot said.

B.C. Federation of Faculty Associations executive director Annabree Fairweather said a strike can be avoided but it will depend on the UNBC Board of Governors willingness to reach a resolution.

Full-time mathematics instructor Brian Schaan drew a loud round of applause. He claimed the university is also seeking to strip away protections afforded under the collective agreement in exchange for increases to the salaries of a select few.

"They have, a various points, demanded that we withdraw all grievances, that we completely eliminate seniority for term and sessional instructors, including myself, that we abolish faculty-led hiring and tenure committees," he said. "They have demanded that we do away with our rights and ask us simply to trust them.

"We're fortunate enough to have a union that recognizes that trust is earned, we're fortunate enough to have a union that fights for all its members and recognizes that our rights are not for sale and that going on strike is an absolute last resort."

In an interview, Rader said the Faculty Association believes UNBC has the money to reach the kind of settlement members are seeking.

"What we're doing is trying to set the foundation for UNBC's success for decades to come...we are all going to feel the pain of this, but students in 10 or 20 or 30 years will be grateful that we have laid the foundation for a university that is strong and is build on the basis of respect," he said.

UNBC communications director Matt Wood limited his comments Wednesday to saying the sides are continuing to talk.

"They're still at the table and they're still working towards finding an agreement that meets the interests of both parties," he said.

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