Northern Lights College warns union of “significant changes” to campus operations

Mike Carter, Chetwynd Echo


CHETWYND – British Columbia’s provincial budget contains $51 million in cuts to advanced education funding over three years. These cuts will have an impact on most post-secondary institutions in the province.

The impact will be felt locally when Northern Lights College releases their 2014-15 budget in the coming months.

Right now, colleges and universities across the province are preparing to make adjustments to balance their budgets – meaning layoffs, program cuts and student fee increases are a possibility at the Chetwynd Northern Lights College Campus.

It could be until late spring or summer until we know just what steps the college will take to reach balanced budgets in each of its seven campuses in Atlin, Chetwynd, Dawson Creek, Dease Lake, Fort Nelson, Fort St. John and Tumbler Ridge.

Brad Lyon, executive director of communications and community relations with Northern Lights College (NLC) in Fort St. John said the college has informed the British Columbia Government and Service Employees Union (BCGEU), which represents the college’s employees that “significant changes” are in order for the school’s operation.

“We let the union known that there may be significant changes in the colleges operation in order to achieve a balanced budget,” Lyon said.

Because NLC is currently in the process of developing its 2014-15 budget, Lyon could not provide information on the specifics of what these significant changes may be.

“We’re in the midst of finalizing our budget deliberations,” he said. “If there are layoffs, and if there are staff impacted because of decisions that have to be made, [they will be] notified in due course.”

In the meantime, NLC and BCGEU, continue to meet regularly to hash out an adjustment plan, which will detail any cuts in positions or increases in student fees that might have to happen.

If both sides agree on an adjustment plan, it is enforceable as if it were part of the collective agreement between the employer and the union.

Once negotiations surrounding the concept budget are complete, it will go before the school’s Board of Governors for approval.

This meeting is set for mid-April Lyon says.

“We have to have everything that [the] administration group is doing finalized and ready to be put in place for that presentation to the board in mid-April.”

The BCGEU is in regular consultation with Northern Lights, as part of the budget process.

“Our vice-president of Corporate Services is in consultation with our local union representatives and certainly there have been meetings and discussions to examine whatever options there are,” Lyon said.

“It’s very important to work with the union because any potential idea that can be floated might be a good one and if it’s one that could potentially save a job, then it’s worth exploring.”

In a release March 5, the British Columbia Government and Service Employees Union said the cuts undermine the credibility of the BC Liberal government’s Skills and Training Plan.

“The government’s training plan projects that BC will experience a shortage of up to 33,000 skilled workers by 2020,” said BCGEU president Darryl Walker. “And yet they’re cutting college and university funding at the very time we need to increase investment in advanced education.”

The impacts are already being felt in some post-secondary institutions around the province.

Burnaby’s British Columbia Institute of Technology recently passed a budget that includes staff reductions by attrition, delayed repairs and maintenance, and increased student fees.

Camosun College in Victoria faces a $2.5 million deficit, while Selkirk College looks at a $900,000 shortfall and Okanagan College $500,000.