B.C.’s NDP government says it is appointing a special mediator to intervene in the nearly three-week-old strike at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC).
The striking UNBC Faculty Association (UNBC-FA) made the request of the province’s labour minister earlier Tuesday.
In a statement posted to its website, the university says it supports the approach. A spokesperson for UNBC said both sides were back at the bargaining table Tuesday, and as such, they were not commenting further.
“We have received the request and we are going to appoint a mediator and we are working through he details,” said Labour Minister Harry Bains.
“The situation is dire, there is a real risk the students could lose their exams and their semester, and both parties are in mediation.”
The university’s faculty association walked off the job on Nov. 7, amid stalled contract negotiations with the school.
Students at the University of Northern British Columbia say they’re frustrated about the length of the dispute and how it’s affecting their coursework.
Cyan Lemoal, a second-year geography student, said the school sent an email this week advising students that whatever happens, they won’t lose their semester.
But she said if the strike drags on, they have been told it could be extended into January, and push the next semester back.
“If the winter semester gets pushed back and then all of a sudden we’re here until May, like, we just lose time that we could be at home, that we could be working and making money so that we can afford to come back here September,” she said.
Lemoal said students have been told they will receive some sort of tuition refund for the lost class time.
But Lemoal said she’s more concerned about missing course content that could be critical for her future classes.
“Just worrying that, like, next semester for our classes we won’t be prepared for them and that we’ll have missed stuff that was important,” she said.
The UNBC Faculty Association represents about 180 employees, and the disruptions affects an estimated as 3,500 students.
Details of the university’s latest offer can be found here.
UNBC-FA president Stephen Rader said there was room for an agreement on most issues.
“All of the proposals that we are putting forward fall within the financial envelope that the employer has indicated they have,” said Rader.
“So the issue is not about money at this point.”
But Rader said the employer was making one demand about contracts that the union has been advised it could not legally support, which was holding up a resolution.
“I don’t want to get too much into the details. We’re trying very hard not to bargain in public,” he said.
“We just felt boxed in and unable to do anything because they said they couldn’t move without us doing this.”
Regular classes for UNBC’s fall semester end on Dec. 3, and if a deal is reached quickly the semester could be extended into the exam period.
That resolution can’t come fast enough for Lemoal.
“I love school, I love what I’m learning,” she said.
“I just feel like I’ve wasted the last almost three weeks.”