Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Taylor Bachrach was one of the many new faces that appeared in the picket line outside the University of Northern British Columbia’s Terrace campus main building on Friday.
Bachrach joined UNBC students and members of the BC Nurses Union in the picket line as negotiations continue between the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) and the UNBC Faculty Association union.
As the region’s newly elected MP, Bachrach says he visited the picketing line to talk with faculty, students and staff to better understand the issues.
“UNBC is a really important part of northern B.C., and I want to make sure that the instructors’ voices are heard and that they get a fair shake,” he said. “The collective bargaining process is an important part of our system and I’m hopeful they’ll get down to talks with the employer and come up with a fair agreement.”
BC Nurses Union student representative Maggie Biagioni says it was important for union members to show their support for the UNBC faculty.
“Unions support unions, and we’re always in support to make sure people are getting taken care of, especially at UNBC where nursing students are graduating,” Biagioni says. “Most of us are going to be union members one day. It’s so important for our future nursing students to be well taken care of and to have good educators who are being treated fairly.”
The strike has left many students with unanswered questions about how the rest of their semester will play out. Practicums have been put on hold and students aren’t even sure whether they will be able to finish their course requirements on time.
“We’ve been fortunate to have awesome faculty members that we can trust who will hopefully, when the strike is over, help us out as much as they can. But it’s scary, because we don’t know,” said UNBC social work student Adelle Jonker.
“Some people booked holidays and we don’t know if we’re going to be able to do the things we thought we would in December.”
However, Jonker says many students are ready to stand behind their professors, recognizing the importance of collective bargaining.
“The students I’ve spoken to are obviously upset that there is a strike – it’s harming our education. But for the most part, I think students are pretty supportive of the faculty and not resenting the faculty for this.
“I think students understand that as a union your power is collective and sometimes [strikes are] needed to have your voice heard.”
The strike action at the Terrace campus, which is entering its second week, is part of a general strike that has also stopped classes at the university’s main campus and Wood Innovation and Design Centre in Prince George.
Terrace UNBC associate professor Bruce Bidgood said, however, there is a renewed sense of optimism in the air as talks between the two parties resumed earlier this week, both sides eager to return to the bargaining table.
“On the union side, we have been eager to negotiate an agreement right from the beginning. Our employer, on the other hand, has been reticent to come to the table on different occasions and has, in our opinion, been slow to respond to some of our proposals,” he says.
“Now we’re seeing that there seems to be a genuine enthusiasm on both sides to come up with a negotiating deal, so hopefully we can get something done very soon.”
According to an update posted to UNBC’s website the faculty association provided three different proposals this week.
The employer called the first two proposals “creative and interesting in concept” but said the detailed costs of the proposals exceeded the provincial bargaining mandate.
On Thursday morning the faculty association returned with a revised offer and salary target, which the university took back for costing out to see what the financial commitment would be.
The employer then tabled a proposal Friday morning to “maximize compensation increases for all faculty…within a competitive compensation structure.”
“It is vital that we recruit and retain outstanding faculty and ensure we turn our attention to addressing the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for UNBC,” the university’s most recent press release reads.