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VIU faculty go on strike; Langara could be next

Faculty at Vancouver Island University went on strike Thursday morning, and Langara College faculty could be next.

The members of the VIU Faculty Association (formerly Malaspina College) took job action after neither direct negotiations nor mediation had succeeded. VIU spokesperson Toni O'Keeffe said employees in BCGEU and CUPE were respecting the VIUFA picket line.

Douglas Stetar, a Media Studies professor and a member of the faculty bargaining team, told The Tyee that faculty have been without a contract since April 2010. "We were very frustrated because management wouldn't bargain for five months." He said faculty eventually worked with a mediator, again with no success.

"Job security and cuts to education are the issues," Stetar said. He said administration compensation has risen by 41 percent in the past four years, while management wants to cut 10 percent of the university's education budget -- "The equivalent of 40 to 60 members." He explained that the provincial government has frozen VIU's budget, not cut it, so money for new projects or activities must come out of the education budget.

Stetar said students are backing their instructors, and some were "on the picket line in the pouring rain" this morning.

Also lending support was Lynn Carter, president of the Langara Faculty Association, whose members are also in a position to strike. "We're not out today," she told The Tyee. "We're still trying to bargain a collective agreement." Carter said the Langara College management was showing "no movement, nothing on 'cost items,'" like adding new staff and faculty to serve a student population that has grown 30 percent in 10 years.

In a message to students dated March 8, VIU said:

Throughout these negotiations VIUFA has asked the University to negotiate on a number of cost items and has asked for a no layoff clause.

The government has given VIU and other Universities and Colleges a cost neutral mandate. The University has no concessions on the table nor are we asking for removal of any items from VIUFA’s existing agreement. The University has proposed a continuation of VIUFA’s current agreement to March 30, 2012.

VIUFA has published its demands publicly at: and it is clear these demands are outside of the mandate VIU is able to negotiate within.

Toni O'Keeffe, VIU's executive director of communications and public relations, told The Tyee that the university couldn't meet the faculty demand for a no-layoff clause. "It means inefficient use of time, space and resources," she said, since it would be impossible to shut down programs for which demand had fallen. The university, she said, was willing to extend the present collective agreement for one year.

"We know our budgets for the next three years," O'Keeffe said. "They're flat. But we're also looking at $3 million a year in inflation."

Cindy Oliver, president of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators, told The Tyee several other locals have taken strike votes, and negotiations have been difficult because colleges and universities claim their hands are tied by their frozen budgets. "Per-student funding has actually dropped in B.C. over the past ten years," she said. "The provincial government has shown how much they care about post-secondary education."

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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