University faculty and administration in Kamloops are set to resume contract negotiations Thursday.
And hopes are that longstanding goodwill between staff and employers can be maintained, said Jason Brown, Thompson Rivers University Faculty Association president.
“We’ve always had good relationships with the employer here and we hope that can continue,” said Brown. “But there’s also the political and economic reality that everyone deals with.
“And so it’s making it more and more difficult for not only us but for everyone across the province to have negotiations between the employers and the unions.”
The 650 employees have been without a contract since last March.
Both sides face the province’s unmoving co-operative gains mandate, which asks institutions to find ways to fund wage increases through budget savings.
And deep cutbacks to post-secondary facilities province wide last year have already created economic pressures.
“Like any other public institution we must function within a provincial mandate and we’re going to do our best to find a fair and sustainable settlement within that mandate,” said Christopher Seguin, TRU’s vice president of advancement.
In November, 85 per cent of voting TRU Faculty Association members rejected a verbal offer from university administration.
A “fair and reasonable” wage increase is on the bargaining table, said Brown, but more pressing are the concerns raised by a segment of TRU’s faculty.
The non-regular or contract academic staff alerted the union to inequities in the way they’re treated, said Brown.
“Those particular categories of faculty have raised, internally, a lot of issues that they feel they’re not being treated as appropriately or fairly as they could be,” he said, declining to going into detail.
That employee demographic is increasing. Tenured professors have more protection as outlined in the collective agreement but when they leave they are routinely replaced by non-regular academic staff.
And although tenured professors have not been pressured to move on, said Brown, “when people don’t feel comfortable working somewhere, sometimes they just leave of their own accord.”
Meanwhile, the province announced that a two-year “tentative compensation template agreement” was reached with a number of B.C. post-secondary schools earlier this month.
Camosun College, Northern Lights College, Northwest Community College, Okanagan College and Selkirk College are in the ratification process.
"More than half of unionized employees are now covered under negotiated settlements, despite the tough fiscal environment,” said finance minister Michael de Jong. “These agreements show significant progress is being made under the co-operative gains mandate."
Brown said TRU’s union representatives are paying attention to progress at other post-secondary institutions as well as the co-ordinated approach to bargaining and communication among the various B.C. Government and Services Employees’ Union locals.
“But of course we have our own local issues here that may be different than the others,” he said.