Northern Lights College contract talks break off

About 130 members of the BCGEU will be holding a strike vote this week after contract talks covering support staff who work at the eight campuses of Northern Lights College throughout northern B.C. broke down last Friday in Fort St. John.

Fort St. John, BC (29 Nov 2004) - About 130 members of the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union will be holding a strike vote this week after contract talks covering support staff who work at the eight campuses of Northern Lights College throughout northern B.C. broke down last Friday in Fort St. John.

BCGEU president George Heyman says a pay increase for support staff is the stumbling block that brought talks to a halt. And he blames Victoria’s rigid zero per cent wage mandate for the bargaining conflict.

"These are predominantly women workers who are the backbone of our post-secondary system," Heyman says. "They deserve to be treated fairly by the Campbell government—especially when Victoria is sitting on close to a two billion dollar budget surplus."

Like their counterparts at B.C. colleges and institutes, Northern Lights support staff have had no raises in five of the last seven years, and a total pay boost of only 4.4 per cent in the other two.

"When you take inflation into account, it means their real incomes have fallen by about seven per cent during that period," Heyman says. "These workers can make a legitimate case that a fair wage increase must be part of any settlement at colleges and institutes."

The workers’ contract expired June 30, 2002.

The union is seeking cost of living adjustments plus a seven per cent pay boost in a new four year agreement, along with parity measures to give support staff the same access to benefit provisions like maternity leave that are already enjoyed by college instructors.

The Northern Lights strike vote is expected to be completed by the end of the week. Strike vote meetings will be scheduled for BCGEU members at college campuses in Fort St. John (Dec. 1), Dawson Creek (Dec. 2), Fort Nelson (Nov. 30), Chetwynd (Dec. 3), and Tumbler Ridge (Dec. 3). Union members at campuses in Dease Lake, Atlin, and Hudson’s Hope will vote by alternative means.

College support staff operate audio/visual services, along with registration, counselling, academic advice and financial aid programs. They also assist in trades training and student labs, maintain buildings, and provide library, IT and computer services.

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