CUPE strike closes North Island College campus

Employees of North Island College’s Campbell River campus keep warm by a fire on the picked line on Dogwood Street Tuesday. - Brian Kieran/The Mirror
Employees of North Island College’s Campbell River campus keep warm by a fire on the picked line on Dogwood Street Tuesday.
— image credit: Brian Kieran/The Mirror

CUPE picket lines disrupted classes for more than 870 North Island College (NIC) students and their 50 instructors Tuesday.

The job action by CUPE Local 3479 support staff began at 6 a.m. and was expected to continue Wednesday. The union said it was the result of “failed last minute efforts by CUPE to get the provincial government to sign off on collective agreements with B.C.’s 3,000 CUPE college support workers.”

The strike action includes all NIC campuses affecting 3,600 students, as well as Vancouver Island University, Camosun College, College of the Rockies and the College of New Caledonia.

At issue is a blockage in negotiations at the province’s Public Sector Employers’ Council and the Ministry of Advanced Education, says CUPE’s B.C. Colleges Coordinator Ian McLean. “If it wasn’t for government interference in collective bargaining, we would be heading to work this morning with a reasonable contract in our pocket. Instead, we are heading for the picket line.”

CUPE community college support worker have been without a contract since 2010. The unionized workers are looking for a no-concessions, four-year deal with two per cent wage increases in the last two years. This would be in line with other recent public sector settlements in B.C.

“We have been working closely with our employers to do everything in our power to settle this round of bargaining,” McLean says.  “We have met and worked with those employers over the past two years and proposed settlements in line with all the other recent public sector contracts. We have worked with the assistance of a mediator to try to streamline the process. To date all of these efforts have failed because we are told by our employers that they don’t have a mandate to bargain from the government.”

“The only reason we don’t have a deal is because the BC Liberals have dropped the ball.  We remain committed to negotiating a fair and reasonable contract, and our door is always open, but this government’s interference in collective bargaining has pushed us to the point where our only alternative is job action,” says McLean.

Other recent public sector wage settlements have been four-year, no-concessions deals with “0, 0, 2 and 2 per cent” wage increases. McLean told The Mirrior CUPE “is open to the exact same settlement.”

NIC Director of Community Relations Susan Auchterlonie says in support of CUPE’s job action, the NIC’s Island College Faculty Association has advised its members to respect any picket lines that are established.

“As a result, all on-campus instruction scheduled at NIC’s campuses in Campbell River, Comox Valley, Mount Waddington, Port Alberni, Ucluelet and the Tebo and Vigar vocational centres will be cancelled on those two days.  Off-campus instruction, including clinical and practicum placements, and instruction taking place in-community will continue as scheduled.”

All college campuses will remain open from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for students to access study space and limited student services, Auchterlonie says.

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