U of M strike: Bargaining teams meet for 1st time since Sunday

Bargaining teams for the University of Manitoba's faculty and administration are heading back at the conciliation table.

Admin willing to continue meeting through weekend 'as long as one party wants to be at the table'

More than 1,200 faculty members at the U of M's Fort Garry and Bannatyne campuses went on strike November 1. (Bert Savard/CBC)

Bargaining teams for the University of Manitoba's faculty and administration are heading back to the conciliation table.

The two sides are scheduled to meet Thursday for the first time since an offer was made last Sunday night to the faculty association. That offer was promptly rejected by the association the following day.

John Kearsey, vice-president of external relations for the university, said administration is looking forward to resuming the conciliation talks to end the strike, which is now in Day 10.

"As always, we'll leave things very hopeful," he said, adding administration is prepared to continue meeting through the Remembrance Day weekend if it means an end is in sight and students can get back to classes.

"As long as one party wants to be at the table, we'll be at the table. I don't think holidays will stop us," he said.

University of Manitoba Faculty Association president Mark Hudson said his bargaining team feels the same.

Nearly 30,000 students attend the U of M and most have had their schedules disrupted since the strike began.

More than 1,200 UMFA members hit the picket lines on Nov. 1 and intend to continue striking until a deal addressing workloads and fair evaluations, as well as salary increases, is reached.

Workload 'overwhelming'

Daria Kalajdzievska, an instructor in the math department, has spent a total of 10 years teaching at the university. Things have taken a dramatic turn in the past five years, she said.

"I'm answering emails from the moment I wake up in the morning," she said. "Last thing I do before I lay my head down on the pillow is pick up my phone and answer student emails."

She and her parents, both of them also U of M faculty members, have been picketing for the past 10 days.

With an estimated 300 to 400 first-year students alone under her tutelage, mounting workloads are making it harder for her to do her job well, Kalajdzievska said. 

"You can imagine what the volume of emails look like on a daily basis. Not to mention the lineups in front of my office for office hours," she said, adding her main concern is that students receive a quality education.

"Students need technical support, and a bit of emotional support and encouragement and it's starting to get a bit overwhelming."

The salary issue has also grown into a unfair labour practice complaint against the provincial government. UMFA alleges the province meddled in the bargaining process, causing the university to withdraw a salary offer, which is contrary to the university's obligations under the Labour Relations Act of Manitoba.

Some classes at the university are taught by non-UMFA members — teaching assistants and sessional instructors — and continue as usual, but the majority of students are also registered in classes with professors who are on the picket lines.

Information about the status of courses, classroom scheduling and service changes can be found on the university's website.