UNBC faculty strike continues into ninth day

UNBC instructors and their employer are in agreement on salary proposals, but the two sides are still far apart on settling recruitment jurisdictions and who ultimately decides on promotions and future hiring of new faculty members.
The nine-day strike continued Friday and classes for about 3,500 students were canceled for a fourth consecutive day.
A noon-hour rally for picketers at the UNBC campus included 15 professors from across Canada who made the trek to Prince George as a show of solidarity.
"They walked the picket line all day with us and it was fantastic, it's a real boost to see it's not just  us here in Prince George who are involved in this struggle," said UNBC Faculty Association president Stephen Rader. 'It's really professors across Canada who are watching us and seeing are we standing up for things that they believe in and holding the line when administrators try to take things away from us."
The faculty strike that began a week ago Thursday is the first since March 2015, when classes were disrupted for two weeks. Salaries were at the heart of the dispute then as well and Rader says compensation for UNBC instructors ranks 98th out of 100 in Canada.
"We've been working on the salaries issue for the best part of a decade," Rader said. "How do you recruit a new scholar to come here if you're offering the lowest wages in Canada? We really thought this time around we were going to get a clean offer on salaries without any other condition attached to it, and they decided to make it a fight over faculty rights.
"Things like decisions on promotions are usually a faculty-driven process and they want more management control. In a factory, management usually decides who gets promoted, but a university is different because we know more about our disciplines than any of these administrators. They don't know whether we're doing a good job or not, only we can judge one another and they want to reduce our role in that.
"If we allow them to do that then young scholars looking for jobs will look at UNBC and they'll say, 'I don't want to go there, the faculty have no role in managing the institution, it's run like a factory,' and they'll go somewhere else."
Rader said the reason salaries have dropped so low on the scale compared to other similar-sized universities such as UVic, Lakehead and Trent, both in Ontario, is due to UNBC's low annual career development increments, which reflect increased expertise gained through teaching experience.
UNBC's annual career increments are $1,100, while the next lowest in the group of comparator universities is $2,500. In its proposal on Tuesday, UNBC offered to bump those annual increments to $2,700.
"Ours is going up by such a small amount every year compared to everybody else and the longer you're here, the further behind everybody else you fall," said Rader. "We would have been pretty happy just sorting out the salary and not worrying about anything else.
"But our administrators, despite having acknowledged salaries are a problem and saying they wanted to fix them, decided to come after these other things and turn it into a fight, which we all find regrettable."
During the strike, affected faculty members will each be paid $88 per day in tax-free strike pay, seven days per week. Rader said the overall mood of membership is that they are prepared to dig in and be out of work as long as it takes to get a favourable settlement.
"What everybody is saying is we don't want to go through this a third time, so we're willing to stay out until we get the deal we need," said Rader.
UNBC's first collective agreement since its faculty became certified as a union in April 2014 expired June 30. The 2015 strike was suspended after two weeks when UNBC administration called in the Labour Relations Board to end it in a process only permitted for first collective agreements. The board ordered binding arbitration and in December 2015 a five-year contract retroactive to 2014 gave faculty members a 10 per cent increase.
The B.C. public sector is bound by a provincially-mandated restriction which limits salary increases to no more than two per cent per year over three years. Any wage increase beyond two per cent requires negotiated savings in the collective agreement.
UNBC, in its improved offer on Tuesday, proposed close to $1 million in savings which would have resulted in a 15 per cent average salary increase over three years for tenured and tenure-track faculty members. Under the proposal, some full professors would see three-year increases amounting to 28 per cent, while associate professor salaries would jump 22 per cent and associate professors would get an 18 per cent raise.  
The offer for senior lab instructors, librarians and part-time instructors would boost their pay six per cent. The proposed increases vary depending on individual rank and years of service.
UNBC administrators were unavailable for comment Friday while negotiations continued but posted an update on the UNBC website which summed up progress made this week at the bargaining table.
"This week’s work resulted in the employer tabling a proposal this morning, which is a sincere effort to maximize compensation increases for all faculty including SLIs and Librarians, within a competitive compensation structure," Friday's release stated. "It is vital that we recruit and retain outstanding faculty, and ensure we turn our attention to addressing the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for UNBC."
Classes at UNBC have been canceled all week, and that decision is left up to administration. In the event of a settlement, depending on the day of the week and time of day that occurs, UNBC would require at least eight hours notice for students to be informed of the resumption of classes. More than likely it would be 24-hour notice. Full student activity could also be delayed further by heavy snowfalls or obtaining clearance to use of lab equipment.
Just two weeks are left in the current semester and if Rader said if the dispute is prolonged the UNBC senate can decide to push the semester further into December or even January.
The faculty association is staging another rally Saturday at noon at the Mr. P.G. site at the intersection of Highways 97 and 16. Other unions and representatives of the BC Federation of Labour are expected to join the rally.
"It's an opportunity to explain to the citizens of Prince George why their university is on strike, what are commitments are to students and why we hope this is the last strike we need to take," said Rader.

 

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