Skip to main content

Martin Farnham, an associate professor of economics at the University of Victoria, February 17, 2014. He opposed the campaign for certification among faculty.

CHAD HIPOLITO/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Faculty members at the University of Victoria have voted to certify as a trade union in a move that may signify the start of a trend across the province's research universities.

Campaigns to unionize are also under way at Simon Fraser University and the University of Northern British Columbia. If those succeed, the University of British Columbia will be left as the only major research university whose faculty is not represented by a certified union.

UBC's faculty association has been granted "voluntary recognition" by school management since 2000, giving it all the rights and responsibilities of a certified union.

Story continues below advertisement

"In a lot of ways, this is about modernizing the relationship between faculty and university managers," said Robert Clift, executive director of the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of B.C. "In some ways, in the 21st century, we're finally getting around to 20th-century labour relations in our universities."

Certified unions represent more than 80 per cent of faculty members across Canada's research universities. The major exception among the provinces is Alberta, where faculty unionization is prohibited by provincial statute.

Faculty unionization was banned in B.C. from 1977 until 1992, when the NDP government under Michael Harcourt repealed an anti-unionization clause in the University Act.

Mr. Clift said strategies learned during that 15-year period are partly responsible for the delayed transfer to unionization.

"Because the existing mechanisms were working, nobody saw a need to run out and get unionized," he said. "During that time it was illegal, we came up with other ways of getting stuff done. And those old ways are no longer adequate. Which is why folks are turning to unionization now."

Unionizing, Mr. Clift said, is a way of addressing a "power imbalance" during bargaining. Faculty associations are typically limited in the range of matters that can be bargained during contract negotiations with the university. By certifying, everything is on the bargaining table. That includes workloads, tenure and curriculum, according to Mr. Clift, who said that first and foremost "unionization at UVic, UNBC and SFU is not about salaries." Rather, he said, it's about "equalizing this power and finding a way in which everybody moves forward. As opposed to this imbalance where management is just dictating things."

Not all professors are excited about the push to unionize. Martin Farnham, an economics professor at the University of Victoria, was one of those behind "Why Certify," a website created to oppose the certification movement. Prof. Farnham said his major issues with unionization centred on the possibility of strike action on campus.

Story continues below advertisement

"Personally, I'm making above the 90th percentile in terms of incomes," he said. "And I just feel that ethically it's problematic for me to hold my students hostage in order to get a pay raise. More broadly speaking, I worry about people in the sciences who have labs where work is very time-sensitive. A strike could be crippling to research work."

Certifying as a trade union does not necessarily mean B.C. professors will reserve the right to strike, and Prof. Farnham suggested looking at UBC's model, where breaks in negotiation can be settled by binding interest arbitration.

The push to unionize among the province's research universities comes amid turmoil in negotiations between the provincial government and the British Columbia Teachers' Federation, a union representing public school teachers in the province.

However, a union representing university faculty would bargain with university management, not directly with the province.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter