Tentative deal reached in wages dispute

Province returns to bargaining table after CNC support staff organize two-day strike, shutting down college services.

Later this month, the College of New Caledonia (CNC) expects to finalize a tentative framework on wage increases for its unionized support staff.

The support staff, who belong to the CUPE Local 4951 labor union, have been anticipating an agreement for two years, ever since their previous wages and benefits contract with the CNC expired.

After failing to reach a collective agreement on a two-per-cent wage increase with the CNC in November 2012, support staff organized a two-day strike at campuses across B.C., shuttering college services and leaving thousands of students without classes.

“The cost of living is 2.9 per cent, so we’re asking for under the cost of living, and we’ve already done our civic duty of taking two years of zeros,” said Lily Bachand, president of CUPE 2951.

The strike was largely based on a decision by the provincial government to approve a two-per-cent increase for support staff at universities across the province, but not colleges, said Bachand.

On the second day of the strike, the Post-Secondary Employers’ Association (PSEA) – the bargaining agent for all public colleges, special-purpose teaching universities and institutes in B.C. – released a statement saying they were ready to negotiate.

The following week, delegates from the PSEA, the CNC and CUPE Local 4951 convened in Vancouver from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2, 2012, to hash out a monetary framework template.

“I don’t think we would have been able to make it to the provincial table the way we did, and the provincial government wanting us to reform the table, if it wasn’t for the collective job actions that were done by all the colleges standing together as one,” said Bachand.

“I think it’s very promising. One of the biggest hurdles was to get to the monetary framework that was created.”

Over the next few weeks, the monetary framework template will be incorporated into a member agreement and presented to the CUPE Local 4951 membership for ratification.

“This is a significant milestone in the bargaining process, but there is more work to be done to conclude the local portion of the agreement that makes the settlement a complete package,” said Anita Bleick, chief executive officer for the PSEA, in a statement.

Both CUPE and the CNC aim to finalize the agreement at a meeting on Dec. 17, 2012.

“The College of New Caledonia is hopeful that collective bargaining talks at the local table with CUPE Local 4951 will also be successful in the coming weeks,” said Randall Heidt, CNC director of communications and development, in a news release on Monday, Dec. 3.

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