#UNBCstrike: A fight for fair pay

Northern B.C. faculty paid less than those at comparable institutions

by Tyson Kelsall

Twitter tags: #unbcstrike, @UNBCFA, @UNBC, #cityofpg, #bcpoli, #canlab

From twitter: #UNBCstrike

The faculty of the University of Northern British Columbia has been on strike since 5 March 2015. Negotiations have been taking place since May 2014.

UNBC’s latest offer is a 5.5 per cent salary increase over five years, falling below the projected inflation rate.

The UNBC Faculty Association has stated that it is not looking for a general wage increase. They are looking to rebuild the pay structure.

The UNBC administration has said that this will come to a “cumulative cost” of $20 million. The UNBC FA President Dr. Jacqueline Holler called this “crazy accounting, done only for this specific purpose – a convenient way of making the ask look very exuberant.” Public budgets are not often revealed this way.

Wage troubles at UNBC are rooted in both internal and external disparities.

Internally, professors with the same academic rank and years of experience see wide disproportion in pay. Holler said this is sometimes as high as $20-30 thousand per year. The UNBC FA wants to introduce a pay grid to bring some uniformity within. Holler said UNBC has recognized this issue and that, “they are not deaf to the problem, they are deaf to the solution.”

Externally, UNBC is paid below comparable universities. In contrast with other undergraduate, research-intensive schools, faculty is paid 20-25 per cent lower.

However, the lack of parity begins about four years after hiring. UNBC attracts professors by offering market salaries, but the wage gap widens after these first few years. Professors who stay at UNBC see others leave and get market pay – retention then becomes an issue. Some believe this represents a general lack of respect. They question why UNBC professors should get paid less for the same labour done in other post-secondary institutions in Canada. After all, Maclean’s Magazine ranks UNBC as the second best undergraduate-focused university in the country.

From the CUPE 3799 (UNBC support staff) twitter @CUPE3799
From the CUPE 3799 (UNBC support staff) twitter @CUPE3799

Perhaps this is why the UNBC FA had such an easy time unionizing. Holler says that over 90 per cent of full-time employees voted in favour of doing so. They were fed up.

Students have been showing support for faculty, also. Many have stood on the picket lines and some organized a rally Saturday, which brought together approximately 200 people.

UNBC has said that there is simply not enough money to meet the FA’s demands. To this Holler said, “You don’t have to listen to us. We went through a substantial arbitration process in 2013-2014 and arbitrator Vince Ready found that they did have the ability to pay us. I don’t need to belabour this point. You can look at the university’s audited financial statement.”

According to Holler, UNBC has been difficult to negotiate with in general. She explains that from May until mid-October 2014, hardly anything was been agreed upon. It took thirty days with a mediator for the 70 articles that are currently signed off.

In any negotiations involving government funding, public opinion is an important factor. And publicly, UNBC is deflecting – talking about cumulative costs and general wage increases, which is not what the Faculty Association is demanding.

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