COURTENAY — Classes were cancelled for North Island College students Tuesday as college CUPE workers walked off the job and set up picket lines in front of all Vancouver Island campuses.
According to NIC, the North Island College Faculty Association (NICFA) said it would respect these picket lines, and classes were also cancelled Wednesday as CUPE 3479 members continue trying to grab the provincial government’s attention during the two-day strike.
“What we are looking for is a wage increase equal to the settlements that all of the public sector locals that have currently settled this term have received,” CUPE 3479 president Michelle Waite said Monday. The union wants a four-per-cent pay hike over two years, she added, noting a similar increase in the B.C. Government Employees’ Union Master Agreement signed earlier this fall.
Waite blames the province’s 2012 Cooperative Gains Mandate because she said it’s keeping a possible wage increase off the table completely during bargaining.
“Our biggest issue is our employers’ inability to negotiate wages with us because the government hasn’t allowed them,” she added.
“And so that’s where we’re stuck — our fight isn’t with our employer (North Island College) right now; our fight is with the government.”
NIC spokesperson Susan Auchterlonie said the college — and its bargaining agent, the Post-Secondary Employers’ Association (PSEA) — must abide by the mandate from the province.
She added the college has a “very good relationship” with its CUPE staff and has expressed its “frustration” with the situation to the PSEA and the Ministry of Advanced Education.
Overall, Auchterlonie stressed, NIC is just hoping things will be resolved soon; the semester wraps up with the last day of classes Dec. 7 and exams are set to begin right after, so the lost instructional days are coming at a somewhat critical point in the year.
“We’re just really hopeful we can get this resolved quickly,” said Auchterlonie. “We don’t want to have any further disruption for our students.”
Waite said CUPE 3479 will assess the situation before deciding on any further strike activity.
Union members at NIC voted 86 per cent in favour of strike action last week and followed up with strike notice to the Labour Relations Board.
CUPE 3479 has about 170 members, with about 105 of those at the Comox Valley campus, according to Waite. She added member turnout for the vote, which was about 50 per cent, was “really good” considering members are spread out over the college’s various campuses and the notice was short.
CUPE 3479 members are among about 3,000 college support workers represented by CUPE, and members at various other institutions, including Vancouver Island University and Camosun College on the Island, that are also striking because they’ve hit the same “impasse about wages,” according to Waite.
CUPE support workers at B.C.’s community colleges have been without a contract since 2010.
Waite said CUPE chose not to sign a collective agreement during the 2010 to 2012 term when the province’s net zero mandate was in place, as other public sector unions did.
NIC campuses are open from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. so students can access study space and limited student services. Off-campus instruction, like clinical and practicum placements will continue as usual.
For more student information, visit www.nic.bc.ca.
Waite said she hopes for some response from the province soon, as CUPE members don’t want to hinder student learning.
“The last thing we want to do is impact students,” she said. “All of us there love our work because most of us deal with students — and this is a last resort.”
Renee Andor is a reporter with Black Press