Union challenges NWCC layoffs

Layoffs intended to avoid a deficit at Northwest Community College have prompted a challenge from the college instructors' union.

Layoffs intended to avoid a deficit at Northwest Community College have prompted a challenge from the union representing college instructors.

Cindy Oliver, president of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of B.C., said on Friday that NWCC managers failed to fully consult or notify instructors about the layoffs.

“We felt the college jumped the gun and issued a bunch of layoff notices that they weren’t intending to use,” she said.

Notices first went out to every NWCC instructor in the union before a second round of notices made it clear that only some were being laid off, explained Oliver.

“That’s just no way to treat people, frankly,” she said. “It gets people upset for weeks on end without really knowing what’s going on.”

Oliver also said that college managers failed to fully consult instructors or the college’s  Education Council before the layoff notices were announced, as required by B.C. law.

B.C.’s Labour Relations Board is now considering an appeal from the union on that issue.

“The employer has to be honest and open their books, and we need to see how we can mitigate some of this,” said Oliver, adding that early retirements or a longer-term deficit plan are two ways NWCC may be able to avoid layoffs.

“Every college has gone through this at one time or another, and they’ve worked it out,” Oliver said, noting at New Caledonia College in Prince George passed through a difficult round of budget cuts with minimal layoffs.

In an open letter posted March 13 to the NWCC website, college president Dr. Denise Henning wrote that nearly all the employees affected by the layoffs have been notified.

But the exact scope of the layoffs will not be known until April, Henning added, since the college is still negotiating with affected staff.

“The administration will continue to work proactively with union leaders to ensure that as we address our fiscal realities, the quality and high standards that have been set at NWCC are not eroded,” she wrote.

Regina Saimoto, NWCC’s campus principal for Houston and Smithers, said in an email that NWCC is facing a deficit of about $1.6 million for the 2011/2012 fiscal year.

If nothing were done, Saimoto said that deficit would likely rise to $2 million by the following year.

NWCC has 544 employees working at eight locations across northwest B.C.. The majority, 306, work at the Terrace campus, while another nine work in Houston and 99 work in Smithers.

Salaries and benefits make up three quarters of NWCC’s $30.5 million operating budget.

Of those expenditures,  57 per cent goes  to vocational and academic instructors, another 30 per cent to support staff and 13.5 per cent to administrators.