Strike FAQ for Students

  • What are the contentious issues that have led to the strike?

The fundamental difference of opinion concerns whether UNBC can continue to flourish if working conditions are substantially worse than at other comparable universities in Canada. An inability to attract and retain strong research faculty to UNBC would have a very negative impact on UNBC students. In particular, it would diminish our ability to include undergraduate students in research in the classroom and beyond.  Specific issues include reduced job security for faculty, the worst salary structure of any comparable institution, and negligible post-retirement benefits, among others.

  • Are the contract negotiations hostile?

Each side recognizes that we are ultimately interested in what is best for UNBC, and that everyone will have to continue to work together after a new contract has been negotiated. Each side endeavours to recognize that the other is working for what they think is right, in the best way they know how, and that the current impasse reflects a professional difference of opinion rather than being a reflection of personal differences.

  • Isn’t there a less disruptive way to resolve contract negotiations than a strike?

The Faculty Association has been engaged in negotiations since May 2014, after failed negotiations in the previous round (an arbitrator had to be called in). Given 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. Nevertheless, after little progress had been made, the Faculty Association invited a mediator to help move things forward in November. At this point, progress has again stalled and we are waiting for a resumption of talks.

  • Couldn’t the strike be postponed until after the end of the semester so that it doesn’t impact students?

Unfortunately, job action that does not affect anyone has no impact. If there were a way to convince the Employer of the seriousness with which we take our priorities without disrupting university function, we would certainly do so.

  • Will UNBC reimburse me for any classes I miss during a strike?  How will lost classes be made up, if at all?  Will I be able to graduate this year?  Will the school year be lengthened to accommodate any lost time? Will test dates or assignment due dates be adjusted?

Some of these issues, like refunds for tuition, are wholly in the Employer’s control, and these questions should be directed to UNBC’s Administration. Others, like extending the semester, will be negotiated in a back-to-work agreement.  The answers to these questions will depend in part on how long the strike lasts.

  • It seems like students are the ones getting hurt in all this. Why don’t UNBC faculty care about the students?

UNBC faculty care deeply about our students.   UNBC faculty believe that the best way to help current and future students is to build a university that attracts and retains top-quality scholars, allowing the best education possible for our students and maintaining and strengthening our excellent reputation in Canada. We cannot do this in a work environment that is demonstrably worse than our comparator schools.

  • I am doing research as part of my degree. Will I be able to continue during a strike?

It depends. Some research may be allowed under the terms negotiated at the start of job action. Also, anyone may cross a picket line during a strike unless the Administration declares a lockout (in which case nobody is allowed in). You should discuss this with your supervisor.

  • How will a strike impact the delivery of supplies, reagents, enzymes, etc.?

During the 72 hours prior to the start of job action, the parties negotiate “essential services,” that is those things that are deemed essential. In general, anything not declared an essential service would be impacted, which would probably include most deliveries. You should discuss this with your supervisor.

  • Will bus service to the university be impacted?

City buses are still running to UNBC, but are dropping off riders in front of the picket line.

  • I believe my professors deserve a fair salary and good working conditions. What can I do to help?

You can encourage NUGSS to take actions (letter-writing campaigns, petitions, etc) encouraging UNBC to reach an agreement with the Faculty Association. You can write letters to the Citizen explaining a strike’s impact on you and your plans. You can tell your family and friends to speak out on social media in support of UNBC faculty. And you are welcome to join us on the picket line.

  • Is UNBC’s future in doubt because of its small size?

No. There are other equally small (or smaller) universities in Canada and other countries. Smaller universities are often stronger, given the better learning environment they can provide with small class sizes and abundant research opportunities. Given UNBC’s #2 ranking in MacLean’s magazine, it appears that the small size is not holding it back in any way.

  • Is UNBC more likely to go on strike than other universities?

British Columbia has had a challenging work environment for public sector employees in recent years. This is why the three non-unionized research universities in the province (UNBC, SFU, and UVic) all unionized in the past year. It may be the case, therefore, that BC universities are more likely to strike than other ones, but last year there were strikes or near-strikes at Brandon, Windsor, and UNB, for example.

  • Can students only expect high quality education (small class sizes, opportunities to do research) at universities that have worse working conditions for faculty?

No. Many excellent small universities in Canada have very good working conditions. Indeed, UNBC has some of the worst working conditions in the country, which has led to our efforts to improve these conditions.

  • Does this strike mean there will be more strikes in the future?

That depends on the approach that UNBC’s administration takes in future rounds of negotiations, but, in general, everybody hates a strike, and having been through one makes both sides more eager to reach agreement without resorting to one.

  • Should students consider transferring elsewhere because of labour instability at UNBC?

That is a personal decision, but the current labour unrest is unlikely to recur (for the reasons given above), and hopefully the temporary inconvenience of a strike will be outweighed by the quality of UNBC’s education.

  • I only stayed in Prince George because of the benefits of attending a small university. Would there be any benefit to staying if there is always the possibility of a strike?

University strikes in Canada are rare, and recurring strikes (i.e. more than one strike within a few years) are almost unheard of. One way or another, the most contentious issues are resolved in the aftermath of a strike.

  • If I do not have 90 credits by the end of this semester, I will no longer be eligible for medical school. If other students and I become ineligible, will this affect future science admissions at UNBC?

It could in the short term. It is unquestionably the case that a strike is a huge inconvenience for everyone. Faculty go without pay. Students may lose time and money in completing their degrees. The benefits of building a solid foundation for UNBC’s future, however, clearly outweigh the inconvenience to all of us (faculty and students). UNBC’s strengths, as reflected in our #2 MacLean’s ranking, and the unlikelihood of recurring job action in the short term, suggest that the impact on enrolment would be limited. This is certainly the experience of other universities that have had strikes.

  • Where can students go to get the latest information on the strike (progress, end of strike, etc.)?

More information relating to contract negotiations and job action can be found on the home page of this web site, or follow us on Twitter (@UNBCFA).

 

For more information about Canadian university strikes:

http://www.macleans.ca/education/uniandcollege/help-my-prof-is-on-strike/