U of M strike: president aims to end dispute 'as soon as possible'

In a letter dated Nov. 9, David Barnard said the strike, which is into its ninth day Wednesday, risks having "harmful impacts" on the university, students, alumni and staff. The University of Manitoba president said he hopes to resolve the dispute as soon as possible.

Ongoing labour dispute puts university at risk, says president David Barnard

University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) went on strike November 1, 2016. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods)

The president and vice-chancellor of the University of Manitoba says he wants to resolve the labour dispute with striking faculty "as soon as possible."

In a letter dated Nov. 9, David Barnard said the strike, which is into its ninth day Wednesday, risks having "harmful impacts" on the university, students, alumni and staff.

"It is my sincere hope that at this trying period in our institution's ongoing development, we can pull together as a community, face these circumstances with intelligence, reason and compassion rather than from entrenched positions, and rise above our challenges," Barnard wrote.

"​I want to assure our more than 29,000 students affected by UMFA's strike action that the University of Manitoba is committed to your academic success."

The University of Manitoba Faculty Association said students have made it clear they are standing with the striking faculty.

"The motion passed by the Science Students' Association endorses the demands of UMFA, including protection against arbitrary workload increases," said a news release issued by the union.

Bargaining in bad faith: complaint

The faculty association has filed an unfair labour practice complaint alleging the Pallister government disrupted sensitive months-long negotiations between the association and U of M administration.

"The failure of the mediation process and the resulting strike were either caused or materially contributed to by the university withdrawing its salary offer, which ... is an act of bargaining in bad faith contrary to the university's obligations under the Labour Relations Act of Manitoba," the complaint reads.

Faculty members continue to walk the picket lines at the University of Manitoba. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods)

Opposition leader Flor Marcelino tabled the documents in question period Wednesday.

UMFA alleges that Gerry Irving, secretary of public sector compensation, intervened on Oct. 6, by suggesting the university put up a lower settlement offer to staff.

"Mr. Irving, in that communication and in subsequent communications, had directed the university to withdraw its proposal for a four-year collective agreement and completely withdraw its salary proposal, substituting it with a salary proposal of zero per cent over a one-year collective agreement," the complaint reads.

Other conditions UMFA alleges the province imposed include asking the university to decline mediation and that "the government would not fund binding arbitration if the university were to agree to that."

It goes on to state several attempts by the university to reconnect with Irving and ask him to reconsider went unanswered, which was followed by the U of M's offer to extend a one-year contract with no salary increases to its faculty.

The UMFA maintains U of M administration voluntarily went along with the suggestion from the province and should compensate staff accordingly for wages and benefits lost during the strike.

Pallister did not answer questions directly about the allegation Wednesday. He instead repeated a message he has made several times since faculty hit picket lines on Nov. 1, saying his government has a mandate from the people of Manitoba to fix the finances of the province.

Pallister said "just because an allegation is made doesn't make it true."

NDP Education critic Wab Kinew said another allegation in the unfair labour practice complaint was that the government would not fund binding arbitration in the dispute.

Marcelino is calling on the government to release correspondence between the cabinet secretary and the U of M's negotiators.

Nearly 30,000 students attend the U of M and many have been unable to attend class due to the strike.

With files from Sean Kavanagh