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Classes cancelled as Vancouver Island University teachers strike

Members of Local 8 of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators (who declined to give their names) picket out front of Cowichan’s Vancouver Island University campus Thursday. - Andrew Leong
Members of Local 8 of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators (who declined to give their names) picket out front of Cowichan’s Vancouver Island University campus Thursday.
— image credit: Andrew Leong

Professors at Vancouver Island University are manning pickets instead of teaching classes since strike action began yesterday.

The university’s 550 professors, including those in Cowichan, started job action at 8 a.m. Thursday, after negotiations between the Vancouver Island University Faculty Association and university administration — with mediation from the B.C. Labour Relations Board — failed.

It is the first time in the university’s history that faculty has taken strike action, affecting more than 10,000 full- and part-time students.

Some of those students joined their instructors on the picket lines yesterday.

“I’ve been following the issues and I think the faculty is showing concern for the quality of education of students,” said fourth-year bachelor of education student Nigel Hanrahan, who stood in the rain outside the Cowichan campus in support of his teachers early Thursday morning.

“I’m happy they’re doing that, so I want to show my support to them.”

Professors are striking in response to potential budget cuts that could lead to courses and programs being deleted and up to 60 of professors laid off during the next three years. The faculty has worked without a contract since March 31, 2010.

Dan McDonald, faculty association president, said job security is the highest priority and the association has asked for a no-layoff clause in a new contract.

“The ability to have increased say in administrative appointments at the institution is also a very high priority for our members,” McDonald said.

McDonald said the costs of administrators’ salaries and benefits rose more than 40 per cent in four years — primarily through creating new administrative positions and reclassifying administrative positions with pay increases — while cuts to courses and programs have stranded students on wait lists.

Toni O’Keeffe, VIU spokeswoman, said administrator salaries were frozen in 2009.

O’Keeffe said the government has ordered VIU and other universities to hold costs at current levels. VIU has no concessions on the table, is not asking for removal of items from the faculty association’s existing agreement, and has proposed that agreement be extended to March 30, 2012.

VIU is also negotiating with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, representing VIU support and administration staff, the B.C. Government Employees Union, which represents most non-academic instructors of trades, vocational and community programs, and the VIU Faculty Association, which represents most academic instructional staff.

BCGEU workers have worked without a contract since March 31, 2010. CUPE members have not had a contract since June 30.

The university is developing plans to ensure students can complete the semester and receive degrees in the event of a long strike, which could include lengthening the semester.

Steve Beasley, VIU Student Union president, said some student union facilities will close during a strike, but its offices would remain open to support students.

So far, Ralph Nilson, VIU president and vice-chancellor, has not responded to requests by the Nanaimo News Bulletin for comment on the labour situation.

The faculty association has published its demands on its website at http://www.viufa.ca/bargaining-2010.

— Chris Bush, Nanaimo News Bulletin

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