Picket lines coming down and students can return to class, but job action continues at UNBC

Students at the University of Northern British Columbia will be returning to classrooms Monday, after missing more than three weeks of studies due to labour unrest among the institution's faculty association.

Instructors decided Friday to remove picket lines that have kept students out of class since Nov. 7  but said they will continue job action that won't prevent students from completing the fall semester.

The association is also filing a complaint with B.C.'s Labour Relations Board, claiming the university's administration is bargaining in bad faith.

Faculty association vice-president Paul Siakaluk said the decision to remove the picket lines Friday was made in an effort to allow students to resume their studies before the Christmas break.

The strike impacted roughly 3,500 students at the university's Prince George, Quesnel, Fort St. John, Prince Rupert and Terrace campuses.

In an online post, the university's administration said classes will be back in session Monday.

It also said a special meeting of the univerisity senate will be held Monday afternoon to consider cancelling exams and instead allowing students to receive their final grades using alternate means, such as in-classroom assessments. 

Otherwise, exams will have to be completed in the new year.

Labour dispute continues

Siakaluk emphasized that despite the return to the classroom, the faculty association is still without a contract. He said members will not be doing work unrelated to allowing students to complete the fall semester.

On Tuesday, UNBC Labour Minister Harry Bains appointed Trevor Sones of the B.C. Labour Relations Board as a special mediator in an attempt to facilitate a deal between the two sides.

Bargaining sessions started Wednesday afternoon and were adjourned late Thursday. According to the university, Sones said he will be discussing options to move forward over the next several days.

In an update to its members, the faculty association said some progress was made during the mediation, but there are still key issues that need to be resolved.

Faculty association president Stephen Rader said the chief sticking point is the administration's insistence that they be allowed to break some aspects of signed contracts, with the faculty association's approval.

Rader said multiple lawyers have told the faculty association this would open them up to legal action and called the demand "unacceptable."

Faculty association chief bargainer Ted Binnema said the refusal of the administration to withdraw this demand led the association to file a complaint with the Labour Relations Board that the university is bargaining in bad faith.

In a written statement, UNBC president Daniel Weeks said, "It is the prerogative of the Faculty Association to file this claim. The Employer will present our position to the Labour Board."

He also welcomed students and faculty back.

Meanwhile, a small group of students who had been sleeping inside UNBC's administration building since Wednesday, urging a resolution and a return to classes, said they would be ending their sit-in with the support of the faculty association.

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