UNBC Strike… 6 Months Later

Shawn Caldera | Publisher

September was business as usual at every school in Canada, with students resuming shuffling from class to class, experiencing the initial carefree enjoyment of having no large assignments or exams, and the endless amount of free food from clubs and events. At UNBC, we’re no different. Hard to believe the 2015 Winter semester almost ended on an extremely sour note.

As much of a tense time as the UNBC faculty strike was, it was forgotten almost instantly once classes resumed. Exams were studied for, assignments had to be done, and convocation was pretty much smacking the faces of every student near the end of their degrees. During the beginning of the strike, there were petitions, movements, marches and even the odd trumpet blaring. Even a couple of memes were made, and we were able to get onto the national headlines! When the dust and fun settled after the first two weeks, tensions were high and negotiations were not close.

Desperation filled the air, with worries of final grades, refunds of tuition, with a smidge of apprehension looming overhead. Both the Administration and Faculty association claimed that they were both working hard to come to an agreement, but many days passed.

What started the strike? We need to go back to the start UNBC itself. 1990 marked the establishment of the institution that would start it all for a new level of education in the north.

Cue the ribbon being cut in 1994 and UNBC was finally open for students to start earning a degree, set for faculty to flex their long awaited muscles, and ready for administration toset down some policy and procedure. Policies and procedures that, some may argue, were not kept and aged, in regards to employee contracts and the pay structures related to them.

As stated on the UNBC Faculty Association site, the issues that led to the strike were “reduced job security for faculty, the worst salary structure of any comparable institution, and negligible post-retirement benefits, among others.”

To further support the fact that there were no changes made to the past structure, the FA wrote on their website that “we had an agreement that functioned well for the last 20 years, there is no reason that this contract should take particularly long to negotiate.” It took close to a month for some sort of resolution, a binding arbitration. Many students asked if the strike was even necessary.

What did it achieve? Students societies and independent movements both wanted the best for the student populace, and most movements were for either a financial reimbursement for time lost or guaranteed credit hours, since the condensed semester would be an inaccurate representation of school performance. Seven students were the first to address this concern, crossing the picket lines to speak to UNBC President, Daniel Weeks. He wrote to the students in an email that he “realize[s] that the faculty strike is not of [our] doing, and that [we] carry

the brunt of this action. Short of announcing that the strike is over, there is little I can say that will satisfy [our] expectations. Nevertheless, many students have requested a commitment from me regarding financial restitution.”

On March 14th, Faculty and Administration met for bargaining for the fourth proposal regarding pay structures. The FA did not agree to it, and only meant for more job- action to take place. At this point, frustrations grew, and tensions ran high. Myself, as a student involved with the “pro-student” movements, saw the toll it was taking on my peers. Student leaders were being divided, and unity was breaking between the student body. As the clock ticked closer to week 4, the labour relations board was brought in by the Administration, and a wave of certainty was brought for some people; for the Faculty Association, which also was standing divided; this was a blessing and a curse.

On March 20th, classes resumed, students flocked to the hallways and returned to Prince George. Assignments
were due, exams were nearing, and UNBC continued as if nothing had happened. Tension ran strong, however, and the divide between administration and faculty was extremely apparent. Who cared, though? People needed to graduate, move on with their lives, and proceed to the next level in their academic lives. Convocation proceeded, Professors were once again doing what they loved doing, and Administration carried on with their duties. Students received a credit to their student accounts and were able to continue going to this great school to further their education.

Throughout November and December, arbitration will occur to see what resolution can be achieved by both parties. This possibly means the FA and Administration can still get what they both want (ideally). Who knows? Maybe there will even be time to kiss and make up.