Strike shutters CNC services

Unionized support staff held a strike outside the College of New Caledonia campus in Vanderhoof on Wednesday, Nov. 21

Unionized support staff held a strike outside the College of New Caledonia campus in Vanderhoof on Wednesday

Unionized support staff held a strike outside the College of New Caledonia campus in Vanderhoof on Wednesday

An abrupt two-day strike by unionized support staff at campuses of the College of New Caledonia (CNC) left thousands of students without classes last week.

After failing to reach a collective agreement on a two-per-cent wage increase with the CNC earlier this month, the support staff, who belong to the CUPE Local 4951 labor union, decided suddenly to hold a strike.

“The college was unable to meet their money demands at that time and therefore talks broke off,” said Randall Heidt, director of communications and development for the CNC.

Lily Bachand, president of CUPE 4951, said the provincial government recently approved a two-per-cent wage increase for operational staff at universities across the province.

“The problem that we’re facing is that the government is treating post-secondary sectors differently, each one of them,” said Bachand.

“What we’re saying is just give us the two per cent.”

The strike, the first by CNC support staff since 1984, began on Tuesday and lasted until Wednesday evening when the the Post-Secondary Employers’ Association (PSEA) – the bargaining agent for all public colleges, special-purpose teaching universities and institutes in B.C. since Feb. 4, 2004 – released a statement saying they were ready to negotiate.

“We are prepared to come back to the table with a reasonable offer, but unions in this sector need to be willing to stretch if they want to meet the expectations of their members,” the PSEA said in the Nov. 21 statement.

“We encourage the union to consider avoiding any actions that may impact student learning.”

With some exams set to take place next month, the strike comes at a sensitive time for faculty and students.

“If we were to pick this time, we would have never have picked this item for that reason,” said Bachand.

“It’s an opportune time if you’re trying to prove a point, but it isn’t our intent to do it on the back of the students. But the provincial government has made it that way, so we have nowhere to go.”