Many Challenges in the New Century (2001 -17)

Follows: 6 - The 1990s - Solidarity in Action

2001: Austerity and Attacks on Unions from the BC Liberal Government

Premier Dosanjh called the election on April 18 for May 16, 2001. His government had a lot to live down: his predecessor, Glen Clark, had been forced to resign in August 1999. Gordon Campbell's Liberals won 77 of 79 seats, reducing the NDP to 2. On its first day in power, Campbell announced a 25% cut in personal income taxes. The tax cuts blew a huge hole in provincial revenues, which in turn created a deficit (after former CIEA President and NDP Finance Minister Paul Ramsey had balanced the provincial budget). The BC Liberal government also quickly moved to fire every NDP appointee on boards and commissions (there are 300), and began attacks on unions. Teaching was made an essential service. 

In post-secondary, austerity meant the Liberal government did not fund the 2001 Common Agreement, leading to faculty and staff layoffs at several institutions. The government made other changes that drastically affected post-secondary institutions: it ended the tuition freeze, a move that led to 40% and 35% consecutive increases to tuition in the next two years; and in an extraordinary weekend legislative session in late January 2002, Bills 27, 28, and 29 were passed attacking collective agreements in K-12, post-secondary education, and the health sector. For the K-12 sector, Bills 27 & 28 removed class size and composition language; for health services, Bill 29 rolled back wages 15% and contracted out thousands of jobs. The first four clauses of Bill 28, the Public Education Flexibility and Choice Act, strengthened management rights over a whole range of collective agreement provisions (class scheduling, vacation, workloads, etc), but CIEA and its locals fought back on several fronts, and the act’s provisions were never enforced at any local. However, a whole range of collective agreement provisions were now technically null and void, and could not be bargained. Protests on the front lawn of the legislature were common, as were demonstrations and rallies around the province. In Prince George, activists set up the Active Voice Coalition, holding town hall meetings on the impacts in every sector of provincial cuts.  

Changes to Post-Secondary Education, Tuition Skyrockets

Where the NDP in the 90s had tried to impose a system on post-secondary education, the Liberal approach was to deregulate, that is, let the institutions do whatever they wanted. As a consequence, university colleges who wanted nothing to do with colleges blew up the Advanced Education Council of BC. System agencies were either disbanded or brought into the Ministry of Advanced Education. The Industry Training and Apprenticeship Commission was cut, 100 apprenticeship counsellors spread around the province were fired, and, after some confusion, the Industry Training Authority was established. Trades training was handed over to industry.  Tuition increases were so massive in 2003 and 2004 that the government stepped in and put a cap on fees - institutions could not raise domestic tuition more than 2% per year. So institutions routinely increased tuition 2% every year, and found every way imaginable to get around the cap: introducing new programs; adding to existing programs, with the add-on not subject to the cap; renovating old programs by shutting them down, revamping them, and relaunching them with triple the old tuition. And of course, international fees had no cap. The result was that tuition revenues more than quadrupled between 2002 and 2017, from $452,000,000 to $2 billion per year.

A major change in the system occurred as some faculty and most institutions sought to move to the next step beyond university colleges, becoming a university. Okanagan University College Faculty Association (OUCFA) negotiated a university-style collective agreement in 2001. The institution did not have the authority to do so, and, as a result, the President and Board were fired in mid-2002. This coincided with OUCFA's notice to leave CIEA. But Premier Campbell's hand-picked advisers on the Progress Board, chaired by UBC President Martha Piper, recommended in December 2002 that the province extend "the mandate of an existing provincial University to Kelowna ...." Thus, in March 2004, Campbell and Piper announced that UBC would be taking over OUC's north campus, leaving a reconfigured college with the KLO campus in downtown Kelowna, and its regional campuses. 

The same month, the government announced that Cariboo University College would be made a university, and Thompson Rivers University came into existence in 2005.

CIEA Becomes FPSE, Continues Commitment to Workers

The 2004 AGM authorized a name change from CIEA to FPSE, as some member locals were now universities. 

Bargaining 2004-05

In the 2005 round of bargaining (contracts had expired on March 31, 2004), only eight institutions' employers participated but most FPSE locals sent representatives. The 2005 round was a particularly protracted and difficult round as the BC Liberal government refused any wage increases for the first two years of all public-sector agreements: this was "net zero" bargaining. The difficult bargaining spilled over in the caucus and the BCGEU and FPSE bargaining committees split and signed separate agreements. In an effort to find some compensation, the bargaining committee reluctantly decided to include in the final agreement the ability for locals to trade off items in their agreements for a 2% wage increase. The third year of the agreement included a 2.1% wage increase. The total value of the wage increase was applied to the top step to maximize its value and provided a 2% stipend (for those locals that could afford it), and:

  • Caps on placement on scale
  • Education Technology language
  • International Education language
  • .6% Common Faculty PD Fund
  • Compassionate Care Leave
  • Health & safety equipment
  • Eye exams

The tentative agreement was signed on March 18 after 10 weeks of bargaining, but the result left a sour taste in the mouths of everyone other than top-of-scale faculty: regulars on lower steps and non-regulars (contract faculty) got nothing more than scheduled increments. Those locals who opted for tradeoffs often made controversial decisions: DCFA gave up 12 Education Leaves; Capilano faculty opted out of employer-paid short-term disability. Several locals couldn't afford it or, on principle, refused to engage. The result was differential salaries in the system. Some faculty associations dealt with cost of living pressures by allowing overloads, in effect providing artificial and somewhat arbitrary salary increases. 

Two months later, the BC Liberals were re-elected, albeit with a reduced majority (46 of 79), with leader Carole James leading the resurgence of the BC NDP. In response to widespread criticism about post-secondary education, the Liberals commissioned former Attorney General Geoff Plant to consult widely and produce a report. Face-to-face consultation with FPSE's Executive proved to be more of an explanation of the government's priorities rather than bona fide consultation. Campus 2020 (see the report & FPSE response, June 2007) had many recommendations, some of which were acted on, and some that just collected dust. Two main recommendations directly affected FPSE members: ABE and ESL programs were made tuition-free again; and university colleges would be turned into teaching universities. 

In the meantime, the 2007 round of bargaining saw the number of participating employers increased to eleven, with fourteen unions.  FPSE and the BCGEU worked together again and jointly signed an agreement with PSEA. The round was dominated by the Provincial Government’s offer to provide each public sector employee with a bonus worth approximately $4000 to ensure labour peace through the 2010 Winter Olympic games. PSEA attempted to compensate faculty differently, depending upon if there was a labour market shortage for a particular discipline, specialty or trade. The compensation package also would have resulted in K-12 teachers with Masters degrees earning more than faculty at post-secondary institutions. Strike votes were taken at Capilano & Malaspina and pressure applied to PSEC. PSEA backed down and agreed to apply the Labour Market Adjustment (LMA) funds equally. To maximize the 0.5% LMA, the total value was applied to the top step, which 75% of the membership would be at by the end of the three-year deal.  Other improvements:

  • Expanded definition of family (for unpaid leaves)
  • Graduated return to work from Maternity and Parental leave
  • Vision care to a maximum of $500 (except Camosun)
  • Provincial Salary Scale increase of 2.1%
  • Labour Market Adjustment of 0.5% applied to the top step
  • 6% Common PD funds carryover
  • Benefits review commitment
  • NVITEA union release to be replacement cost
  • Financial Incentive bonus

Once again, top-of-scale faculty benefited more than others, and the non-regular problems continued as the gap kept widening. A new wrinkle in this round was the government introducing the concept of a Fiscal Dividend, roughly $4000 up front (referred to as the big screen TV fund), and at the end of the agreement if the provincial surplus was over $150 million, not more than $300 million would be allocated as a bonus on a proportional basis to public sector workers who signed on. Unsurprisingly, there was no 2010 dividend.

Another proposal came about because FPSE was getting nowhere on policy matters, and other unions and employers had agreed to deal with some matters away from the bargaining table. The idea was pitched to the Common Table employers, and they in turn talked to the ministry. The result was a post-secondary Policy Table that met for two years, from 2008-10. It dealt with trades and apprenticeship training, and partnerships. The former had been a political football, as the ITA had been moved out of AVED to Economic Development. As a result of the policy table discussions, AVED once again took over planning and running the ITA.   

Members of the Policy Table

  • Ruth Wittenberg, ADM, and Dawn Minty, Deborah Hull, Susan Brown & Rahel Umpherson (AVED)
  • Rick Connolly - facilitator
  • Verna Magee-Shepherd (BCIT), Ralph Nilson (VIU), Nick Rubidge (COR), Casey Sheridan (NVIT), Jean Valgardson (NLC)
  • George Davison, Susan Briggs, & Dominique Roelants (FPSE); Danny Bradford & Anita Zaenker (BCGEU)

2010-12 : Bargaining and Bill 18 Frustrate Faculty

The run-up to the 2010-12 round started with a strategy of local bargaining first, and then creating a common table. The strategy unraveled as local employers refused to enter into a protocol agreement. PSEA was slow to “delegate” local employer bargaining teams with the authority to bargain, and refused to agree to protocols until the parameters of a Common Table were agreed on. PSEA also wanted PSEC’s net-zero mandate in the protocol, a problematic stance before bargaining even started.

Seven BCGEU locals and BCIT FSA joined ten FPSE locals who met with nine employer representatives – bargaining went nowhere fast! On March 9, 2011, FPSE issued a press release about frustrated Faculty Associations taking strike votes at Langara and VCC, and VIUFA went on strike on March 10th.  The VIUFA strike was over job security (threatened program closures) more than salary and benefits, and lasted 4 weeks. FPSE and the BC Federation of Labour intervened and the contract settled, sparing the faculty the pain of a much longer strike over the summer. 

Not long after a Presidents' Council lobby in Victoria in the fall of 2011, and with no warning at all, the government introduced Bill 18, amending all post-secondary institution acts to say that all board members must act in the best interests of the institution, and further that any faculty member involved in bargaining or grievance handling would no longer be eligible for election to the board, or board chair, and government appointees could vote out constituency representatives if they so desired. This legislation was such a violation of faculty rights that President Oliver, Secretary-Treasurer Davison and Staff Rep Phillip Legg flew over to Victoria to meet with Minister Naomi Yamamoto and her assistants. When asked what sparked this legislative hammer, the explanation given was that some faculty board rep had murdered someone, and boards needed to be able to deal with such situations! FPSE representatives pointed out that arrest, jail and missing three board meetings would solve their problem. Conflict of interest concerns had been dealt with since the mid-90s and there had been no problems with constituency reps on boards since. The legislation was passed, effectively barring faculty union activists (and other constituent groups, though not administrators) from sitting on governance bodies at all 25 post-secondary institutions. A few faculty board reps were forced to step down.    

Bargaining in 2012-14, and 2014-19

The 2012-14 round of bargaining took place after other unions (including BCGEU faculty) had already settled for 2% + 2% over 2 years. Locals came together at a template table, negotiated a tentative agreement on February 2, 2013 that had little new (though unions agreed to end the rollover of the Common PD fund). Secondary scales got the same 1,1,1, and 1 lifts that the Common Scale did.

The 2014 round in the broader public sector began well before collective agreements expired. The Health Sciences Association agreed to a 5-year 5.5% contract with an Economic Stability Dividend and a fix to a benefit problem they had. The BCGEU settlement followed on the 5.5% over 5 years framework, concentrating on low-wage redress in their community health and community social service sectors. Other public sector unions got dollar fixes for specific problems.

After contracts expired, FPSE locals once again tried the strategy of local first, but employers at a number of institutions refused to bargain before the template table issues were defined. The special purpose teaching universities engaged in bargaining, but nothing was finally settled until the template table settled. VCCFA separated from the template table group, leaving eight locals along with the Kwantlen Faculty Association at a template table. UFVFSA members rejected a tentative deal in early summer, and did not ratify their agreement until September 2016.

The template table reached an agreement on February 15, 2015 on the following basis:

  • The pattern wage increases of 5.5% over 5 years and the economic stability dividends
  • Increases to vision care
  • Increases to hearing aid reimbursement
  • Increase to paramedical coverage
  • Payment of in-patient substance abuse rehabilitation to a maximum of $25,000
  • Short-term disability benefits to age 70

The main outstanding issue from this round was the secondary scales issue: the hope was the parties would be able to delete secondary scales across the board. This demand was a multi-million dollar ask and as FPSE was at the tail end of the broader public sector bargaining queue, most of the public sector monetary allocations had been made. There was only 0.1% allocated by the government for small local pots, which all locals used for very modest improvements for non-regular faculty, such as improvements to professional development provisions or office hours. The parties did agree on a joint working committee on secondary scales to come to mutual understandings about what types of work and which employees may require salary adjustment, what the transition would entail and what the cost would be. This committee was mandated to make recommendations to each party’s respective principals in preparation for the next round of bargaining. 

FPSE Begins Open the Doors Campaign in Lead-Up to 2017 Provincial Election

In late 2014, as a result of a dispute between Harper's federal government and BC's Christy Clark government over who should get credit for post-secondary funding of ESL, the federal government announced a cut of $22 million to BC. AVED Minister Amrik Virk announced that tuition would be imposed once more on ESL and high school upgrading, or Adult Basic Education (ABE), programs. The amount charged could be up to $1600 per term. As someone pointed out, this was more than grad students were paying at SFU, and it hit the most vulnerable students wanting to access post-secondary programs: single moms, new immigrants, and others seeking to upgrade their education. Almost immediately, this decision led to massive drops in enrollments and cuts to programs, as students could no longer afford to go to post-secondary institutions. Virk responded by putting $8 million to help institutions transition to tuition-based programs. At the Presidents' Council spring lobby in Victoria, Minister Virk was told that Vancouver Community College would run out of money to fund ESL programs by August. VCC was hardest hit because it had the largest ESL program in western Canada. It had 3000 students every 4 months, five ESL departments with 150 faculty specializing in everything from basic ESL to ESL for health workers and engineers. ABE and ASE (Adult Special Education) programs were similarly affected, because funding came out of the same envelope that ESL funding did. The government kicked in more transition funding, but this was transition to layoffs. It introduced an AUG (Adult Upgrading Grant) to help offset the tuition, but it was means tested, only good for one year, and full of paperwork that students couldn't fill out on their own!

FPSE responded with the largest public relations/lobbying campaign in its 45 year existence. Starting with ESL Matters and ABE Matters, and rallies on campuses and in Victoria, it grew into Open the Doors, a campaign to raise awareness about the value of public post-secondary education, but also the impact of tuition increases, program cuts and systemic underfunding.  The campaign was multi-faceted, with provincial and local elements including media events, videos for social media, student debt contests, and petition-signing events that led to President Davison and Secretary-Treasurer Van Steinburg presenting 25,000 signatures in support of post-secondary changes to Advanced Education critic Rob Fleming, who in turn presented it to the legislature in March 2017.

During the election campaign in April and May, there were more events, telephone town halls, newspaper, radio and billboard ads. On election day, May 9, results were almost dead even: the NDP had 41 seats to the Liberals' 43, but the Greens increased to 3 seats. Recounts confirmed election day seat totals. Both the BC Liberals and the BC NDP courted the Greens, and on May 29, Andrew Weaver and John Horgan announced a Confidence and Supply Agreement. Still, Christy Clark hung on to power, called the legislature for June 22, introduced a Speech from the Throne that reversed almost everything the Liberals stood for, but was ultimately defeated on a confidence motion on June 29. The BC NDP was asked to form government.