Classes were cancelled for North Island College students last Tuesday and Wednesday as college CUPE workers walked off the job and set up picket lines in front of all campuses.
According to NIC, the North Island College Faculty Association (NICFA) said it would respect these picket lines as CUPE 3479 members tried to grab the Province’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, adding the union wants a four-per-cent pay hike over two years, noting a similar increase in the B.C. Government Employees’ Union Master Agreement signed earlier this fall.
The two day strike was aimed to reflect the two years that CUPE college support workers have been without a contract.
She 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 been expressing 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 represents approximately 3,000 college support workers across B.C., with the local 3479 having around 170 members.
CUPE support workers at B.C.’s community colleges have been without a contract since 2010, but Waite pointed out 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.
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.”
With files from Gazette staff.