U of M students worried about possible faculty strike as bargaining hasn't begun

The University of Manitoba Students’ Union is urging faculty members and the administration to negotiate a new contract before the class withdrawal deadline on Sept. 20.

Students’ union wants academic amnesty, refunds if deal isn’t reached by Sept. 20

University of Manitoba faculty went on strike for three weeks last November, forcing some exams to be pushed back and the exam period to be compressed from one month to one week. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

University of Manitoba Students' Union President Tanjit Nagra said students are worried that negotiations haven't begun between the University of Manitoba Faculty Association and the administration.

"We're not at the table. We're the most important stakeholder and we're not being told what's going on. This process isn't very transparent and reality is it affects us the most," said Nagra.

Last November, roughly 1,200 professors, instructors and librarians walked out after failing to negotiate a new contract. The strike lasted three weeks before faculty and administration signed a one-year contract, beginning at the time the last contract expired.

That one-year contract expired in March.

Now UMSU is urging faculty members and the administration to negotiate a new contract before the class withdrawal deadline on Sept. 20. The students' union also wants the university to guaranteed academic amnesty for students and to grant refunds if students withdraw from classes after that date.

Nagra said the strike caused anxiety for students, some of whom were forced to drop classes. Some exams were delayed, and the exam period was compressed from one month to one week. She doesn't want to see that happen again. 

"September's going to come around quick and the fact that they're not even trying to meet once a week is unacceptable," said Nagra.

"We want to make sure that folks around the table, both parties, are making the effort now so that we can hopefully avoid a strike that will affect all students."

University of Manitoba faculty went on the picket line at 7 a.m. Tuesday. (Bert Savard/CBC)

UMFA President Janet Morrill said bargaining hasn't begun yet because the association is still getting approval from its membership for its bargaining proposals.

Morrill hopes to have that process completed by the end of July.

"We have tried to do that process much more quickly than we usually do, because we do have this bargaining round right on the heels of our last bargaining round," said Morrill. 

She added the faculty association "would be unwilling to come to the bargaining table without that mandate from our membership," 

A spokesperson for the university said they have asked UMFA for an expedited bargaining process since many of the issues were previously discussed during last year's negotiations.

Nagra said students care about their professors and want them to get a fair deal, but their priority is making sure students complete their courses and graduate on time.

Faculty members recognize how difficult the strike was for students, said Morrill.

"That being said, I think that the issues that we bring up in bargaining directly affect the quality of the education that the students get and we appreciated the support that we got in the last round of bargaining."