Organizing strategy is working: latest certification confirms strong support for union drive

Two years ago, FPSE made a major commitment to fund, staff and resource a broadly based effort to unionize private post-secondary institutions in our province. The commitment was part of a broader recognition within FPSE that instructors working at private institutions needed our help. Their salary levels were inadequate. There were little if any additional benefits. Decision making within the institutions was top-down, arbitrary and left no room for faculty input. But most of all, their workplace lacked the kind of respect that every post-secondary educator deserves, whether they work in a private college or a public institution.

We knew going into this organizing effort that we were facing a number of steep challenges. BC’s Labour Code, the law that spells out the rights of a worker to form or join a union, has been badly undermined from nine years of BC Liberal influence. Amendments to the Code have consistently given the advantage to the employer, an advantage that can easily discourage anyone from signing a union card. We know, as well, that steady de-regulation of BC’s private college system has allowed a few unscrupulous private operators to taint the reputation of the entire system, both public and private.

Despite those challenges, we have recorded steady and consistent progress in our drive to unionize private institutions. The latest certification victory came at Bodwell Language School, a well-regarded private language school operating in downtown Vancouver. The Bodwell teachers voted over 80% to unionize, a vote result that not only showed tremendous courage on their part, but also incredible resolve to establish a level of economic democracy in their workplace.

The private post-secondary education system in BC needs our continued commitment to unionization. According to the BC Private Career College Association over 61,000 students were enrolled in those institutions in 2008. Vancouver has become something of a hub for many of those private institutions with close to 200 located in the city. Estimates of the number of teachers working in this system vary widely, but it is clear that the number is measured in the thousands, not hundreds.

Our next stop on the path to unionization is to negotiate a first collective agreement for the Bodwell teachers. However, make no mistake: our organizing drive is only beginning to rev up. We will continue to do the outreach needed to support an expanded certification effort because, as J.S. Woodsworth once said, “What we desire for ourselves, we wish for all.”

About FPSE

The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC is the provincial voice for faculty and staff in BC teaching universities, colleges and institutes, and in private sector institutions. FPSE member locals, represented by Presidents' Council and the Executive, represent over 10,000 faculty and staff at 18 public and 12 private sector institutions.