Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Langara versus the wage freeze

Today's post is written by Bradley Hughes, a Langara college instructor...

Our provincial government is trying to lower living standards across the province. If they are successful in implementing a two year wage freeze, wages immediately decline relative to inflation, which is now running at over 3%. In addition, since any future increases will be negotiated as a percentage of current wages, this reduces all future wage increases. For instance, comparing two years of zero followed by 2.1 percent increases (0, 0, 2.1%) from now until 2020 with the same period of 2.1 percent increases (2.1, 2.1, 2.1) and no wage freeze, shows that our members will lose between $30,000 and $40,000 over that period if we accept the wage freeze. (2.1 percent is the amount we negotiated for the previous three year contract.)

Wages are the number one issue for instructors at at Langara College. So when our managers refused to negotiate around wages we voted 94 percent in favour of strike action. The Langara Faculty Association is a member of the Federation of Post Secondary Educators of BC. At the end of March the other staff at Langara in CUPE local 15 held a strike vote with 83 percent in favour.

The college's managers refuse to negotiate wages. They are hiding behind the province's guidelines of a net-zero agreement. They claim that their hands are tied. Interestingly, one of the people doing the tying is Langara's College president David Ross, who is also the chair of the Post Secondary Employers' Association of BC. PSEA is responsible for implementing the wage freeze guidelines in our sector.

Our union's goal is to get the college to use the money it already has to increase our wages. Langara has had record enrollments over the last few years, and our managers have been able to find money for any project that takes their fancy. Several new management positions have been created at a cost of over $770,000 a year. They have spent tens of thousands on choosing a new brand for the college, that is finding a new type face for the college name and picking an especially lurid shade of orange for it. They spent thousands to create a coat of arms for the college, presumably because the old open book logo wasn't modern enough and symbolism from 12th century feudal Europe will better represent the managers' view of the college.

We've done several job actions so far. We started with a mid-day walk out and study session for several hours on a Friday afternoon. This was followed by an information picket where we handed out 6,000 leaflets to students and other staff as they arrived.

Many of our members, CUPE 15 members, and students attended the college board meeting at the end of March to find out why they were allowing their bargaining team to refuse to negotiate with the LFA and CUPE 15. In her remarks, LFA president Lynn Carter, asked the college board to “step up”.

We know that there is money in the Langara College budget. We have new administrators, new branding, and flashy new signage. We expect the College Board to step up and unlock the budget to allow Langara employees to bargain freely, fairly, and respectfully.

We expect the College Board to step up and lobby on the College’s behalf so that their own bargainers have the ability to bargain without resorting to excuses like “our hands are tied.”

We expect College Board members to step up and demonstrate their commitment to Langara College faculty and staff, all of whom are dedicated to maintaining this institution’s reputation as the leading undergraduate college in British Columbia.

Our current job action is withholding grades. Exams are in progress now and instructors can submit their grades online at any time. The deadline is Tuesday April 26. If this action continues past the 26th it will impact students' admission to programs all over the province, and it also effects classes at Langara. Many courses have prerequisites of a minimum grade in a previous class. Langara offers a very large selection of course over the summer semester. We hope some serious bargaining takes place prior to this deadline.

We have had lots of solidarity from the students. The Langara Social Justice Club has circulated a letter, entitled Let's end this job action by supporting our professors! for students to email to the college president and chair of the board. They also set up a table and collected 175 signed letters of support in one hour. That's almost three letters a minute! The letter begins, “I am a Langara student, and I am outraged at your refusal to negotiate with the Langara Faculty Association (LFA) and CUPE 15.” Later it reads, “It is unacceptable that you are trying impose a wage freeze.”

In my classes, my students have been supportive, but of course also nervous about the consequences of a prolonged strike or withholding grades.

At several membership meetings, Langara instructors have made it clear we are willing to strike if needed to protect our wages.

Bradley Hughes teaches at Langara College. He is @RedLangara on Twitter and frequently contributes to Socialist Worker newspaper.

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