Manitoba

University of Manitoba union launches 3-day strike vote

The University of Manitoba's Faculty Association is seeking a pay bump for members, among other demands, more than what the university has so far offered.

Students say they're caught in middle of the disagreement affecting their education

The University of Manitoba Faculty Association is asking the University of Manitoba for a salary bump of 4.5 per cent over the next two years. (Dana Hatherly/CBC)

The University of Manitoba Faculty Association launched a three-day strike vote Saturday to gauge whether members are in favour of walking off the job, but students say they're being caught in the middle and their education is suffering.

Last month, the UMFA said staff were seeking higher salaries that are more in line with other universities across Canada, along with a "more equitable hiring, tenure and promotion processes."

"We are losing members. We are finding it difficult to recruit members. We have many different positions in our departments and it's impossible to remain competitive with our salaries at this point," said Janet Morrill, an associate professor of accounting and finance and a member of UMFA's collective agreement committee.

On Oct. 13, the university made a new offer of a four-year deal, with salary increases of one per cent in the first and second years, and 1.25 per cent in the third and fourth years.

Morrill said they want an increase of 4.5 per cent over the next two years.

"That will help a little bit, but really, we need to see salary increases over the next decade that have been much better than the salaries over the last decade if we are going to keep our position," she said.

Janet Morrill is an associate professor of accounting and finance and a member of UMFA's collective agreement committee. She says the school is in "a state of crisis." (Godlove Kamwa/CBC)

The university is losing professors to other post-secondary institutions, including those classified as U15 universities, a collective of 15 of Canada's most research-intensive universities, Morrill said.

Statistics Canada data ranks the U of M 14th out of the 15 schools for average salary for its faculty at $136,925. Only Laval University ranked lower during the 2020-21 academic year.

"It's true that, for instance, the ceilings of our salary scales are now falling behind the University of Winnipeg and Brandon University in the same province," said Morrill.

"And moreover, if you look at other categories of universities that don't even have the same medical and doctoral programs that we have, in many cases, we are below their salaries as well."

Stuck in the middle of the tussle is the University of Manitoba Students' Union, along with students themselves.

"This is a really pressing issue for us as students. We need teachers and faculty to be able to teach us so that we can complete our programs," engineering student Luc Maxwell said.

Aaliyan Abbasi, an Asper School of Business student at the University of Manitoba, says a strike by the UMFA will hurt students. (Godlove Kamwa/CBC)

Aaliyan Abbasi, a business student, agreed.

"If they are going on strike, how are we going to study?" Abbasi said.

"Nothing is more important than the future of the students. They are the future. They are going to help grow the country, help the economy grow, so I feel that they should both come to terms together and not let the strike happen."

UMSU president Brendan Scott remembers the faculty's last strike — that lasted 21 days in 2016 — and doesn't want to see a repeat five years later.

"The hope is, and the communication that I have been giving to the students of UMSU, is that nothing is predetermined. There is no guarantee that classes will stop. The professors simply just want to expedite the process of bargaining with the university," he said.

He said he has also heard rumblings that some departments are having problems offering enough classes to students due to a lack of faculty.

"A big one I've heard about is the computer science program that has very limited spots for students and is causing many students the inability to progress in their programs," he said.

Brendan Scott is president of the University of Manitoba Students' Union. (Submitted by Brendan Scott)

The faculty association is also hearing about courses that can't be offered because of many vacant teaching positions, Morrill said.

"This is hard on students. It's more difficult for them to complete their programs in a timely fashion, because the university is having to cancel courses," she said.

"For a masters student or a doctoral student, for example, if their supervisor left it would be disastrous for them. And so I think the University of Manitoba is in a crisis state right now."

The student union has yet to take a formal stance, but Scott expects that will happen after meetings with both sides this coming week.

Meanwhile, he hopes they can come to an agreement before a possible strike.

The U of M continues to meet with the faculty association, approaching the bargaining team "with the view to conclude a collective agreement," said the executive director for the university's public affairs department.

The results of the strike vote are expected Tuesday, but the union said it won't mean a strike is imminent, only that members could strike at some point.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story included outdated information about length of the contract and the salary increases the university had offered faculty members. It has been updated to reflect the most recent offer.
    Oct 18, 2021 11:43 AM CT

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