Protesters walking outside the Terrace UNBC campus despite the cold, rainy weather conditions. (Brittany Gervais - Terrace Standard)

Protesters walking outside the Terrace UNBC campus despite the cold, rainy weather conditions. (Brittany Gervais - Terrace Standard)

No deal reached, but classes back in session at UNBC in Quesnel

Faculty returning to teaching duties to so semester can be saved, but job action continues

Classes are back in session at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC), although no deal has been reached with striking faculty.

Members of the UNBC Faculty Association (FA) suspended picketing and returned to their teaching duties Friday, Nov. 29 after 4:30 p.m., although the faculty association says job action will continue.

“At this time, the UNBC FA will limit job action to the withdrawal of internal university service work, except for service to the UNBC Senate and UNBC Board of Governors,” UNBC FA chief negotiator Ted Binnema and his team said in the Nov. 29 bargaining update.

The return to teaching came after the UNBC FA filed a complaint before the Labour Relations Board (LRB) earlier on Nov. 29, asking for a ruling that the employer (UNBC) has been guilty of bargaining in bad faith.

“Although we indicated that we were willing to continue negotiations while the LRB process unfolds, the mediator decided to call for an adjournment of negotiations,” stated Binnema. “It might take a considerable time for the LRB to consider our application and allow us to return to collective bargaining. Considering that fact, along with the reality that our students’ semester hangs in the balance, the UNBC FA has decided to suspend picketing at 4:30 this afternoon so that the semester can continue while the LRB is hearing our bad-faith bargaining complaint.”

The UNBC FA expected to update members further after meetings taking place Saturday, Nov. 30.

Classes resumed as usual at UNBC Monday, Dec. 2.

The UNBC Senate held a special meeting Monday, Dec. 2 to consider changes to the graduate and undergraduate academic calendars and to consider alternate arrangements for evaluation and completion of courses and academic requirements for the September semester.

At the meeting, the Senate approved removing the exam period from the 2019 September semester dates and changing the last day of classes to Friday, Dec. 13.

“I am very happy to see that the FA has agreed to remove picket lines and allow students to return to class,” UNBC president Daniel Weeks said in an email statement Nov. 29. “The university community will do all we can to welcome students back to our campuses and support them as they finish this semester. In addition, I look forward to welcoming all our colleagues, including FA and CUPE members, as they return to work. This has been a challenging time, but I am certain we can find ways to collaborate in support of this institution’s vision, mission and values.”

Weeks indicated this time will also give the university “some space to continue working on our issues.”

“We recognize this is an important gesture that provides us the ability to continue bargaining, focus on people, and resume normal operations,” he said.

With regards to the bad-faith bargaining complaint, Weeks stated: “As for the FA’s decision to file an unfair labour practice, the employer understands that it is the prerogative of the Faculty Association to file this claim. The employer will present our position to the Labour Board. The special mediator has indicated he will be in touch with us in the coming days and we look forward to his input in helping us achieve a negotiated settlement.”

The UNBC FA has been on strike since Nov. 7, with pickets at the Prince George campus, the Terrace campus and the Wood Innovation and Design Centre in Prince George. The faculty have been without a contract since June.

Last week, the provincial government appointed Trevor Sones of the B.C. Labour Relations Board was appointed as special mediator. Sones was also appointed by the province as the mediator during the 2015 strike at UNBC.

About 3,500 students in Prince George and at satellite campuses in Terrace, Prince Rupert, Quesnel and Fort St. John have been affected by the dispute, the second in four years at the university after a two-week strike ended in March 2015.

READ MORE: UNBC offers credit, other options as faculty strike continues

— with files from The Canadian Press