It seems to be strike season at post-secondary institutions across British Columbia. BCIT’s Faculty Staff Association (FSA) voted 78 per cent in favour of holding strike action at BCIT.
The FSA represents about 600 instructors in part-time studies, about another 600 day-school instructors, professionals in the library, students services in counselling, 100 members in information technology services, technical staff in the technology programs, and assistant instructors.
This follows strike action on November 6 by BCIT support staff, who are members of the BC Government Employees’ Union (BCGEU) and could mean more class cancellations for students.
According to a press release sent out by the FSA on Tuesday, FSA members will be withdrawing from all institute activities on Wednesday from 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. – during which time BCIT does not schedule regular full time classes. However, if BCIT applies to the Labour Relations Board for mediation, job action will be put on hold until the FSA or BCIT abandons mediation.
Reniers also wrote a letter to BC’s Minister of Advanced Education, John Yap after the FSA reportedly made repeated requests to meet with Minister Yap in person.
FSA Executive Director Paul Reniers predicted that will not be the case.
“We are considering taking action, but it would be very limited,” stated Reniers.
Around the same time BCGEU support staff strike action was taking place at BCIT, the FSA was holding a bargaining support meeting. According to Reniers, 70 FSA union members met to talk about what they would do if they were to go on strike, while some other FSA members were showing their support for the BCGEU.
“We kept our members out of the buildings that were impacted by the strike,” Reniers told The Link. “We had members on the picket line supporting the BCGEU.”
Reniers referred to one of the FSA meetings held during the week of the BCGEU strike action as potentially the largest meeting held in about a decade, if not longer.
Reniers said that the focus of the FSA has been to make the contract easier to understand and to address a few key issues, such as part-time studies contracts.
“Students probably don’t realize that part-time studies instruction isn’t paid the same way as base-school instructors are paid and they’re paid a lot less … [and] have fewer rights,” Reniers noted, pointing out the disparity between how night school instructors are paid.
Other key issues include parental leave, staff turnover and wages. The FSA is seeing that many other unions in university sectors are settling for two per cent wage increases each year for two years.
“We haven’t had a [wage] increase since July 20, 2009,” complained Reniers. “What we’re fighting for is to be treated in the same way as the universities.”
Reniers says the FSA’s vote in favor of strike action was autonomous of the BCGEU and other unions’ decisions to take strike action around BC.
“Our concerns are the same,” said Reniers referring to other institutions across BC that have taken strike action as well as BCIT’s support staff. “I think we’re less concerned about the fact that there are strike votes going on at other institutes, in fact we compete with SFU for instructors and for students.”
As the BCGEU has also told The Link, Reniers says the focus is on the provincial government.
“We need to give BCIT a proper mandate for negotiating. Then it will be up to BCIT to make it work but right now our focus is going to be on sending a really clear message to the province.”
In terms of what strike action will look like, Reniers says before the FSA does anything that will disrupt students or impact programs, they need to know that it’s going to have an impact on their negotiations as well.
“Our members have said we need to inform students on what’s going on. They should know why we’re in this position and what it means for their education, so those are things we are looking to do in the coming weeks.”
First-year nursing student Sarah Montgomery says she hopes her program is not affected by strike action.
“I feel like, especially in the nursing program, our schooling is so accelerated, you can’t just not have a two-hour lecture,” says Montgomery. “Our time frame is very important.”
Montgomery says one of her professors told her class that further strike action may lead to class cancellations and that the date and/or location of one of her midterms might be changed, but other than that, she has not been kept updated on strike action.
“I feel like we, nursing students at least, don’t really have interaction with other faculties, so other than e-mails I get, I don’t really know what’s going on at the school,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery says she supports the unions’ requests, but does not think programs should be affected by strike action.
The FSA strike vote was conducted on November 7, 8 and 9 at BCIT’s Burnaby and Downtown campuses and saw 689 members cast ballots, with 78 per cent voting in favour of taking strike action.
For updates on this developing story, visit linknewspaper.ca or follow @BCIT_Link on Twitter.[hr]