University of Manitoba, faculty reach contract agreement

The University of Manitoba Faculty Association says its members have voted in favour of ratifying a four-year settlement with the U of M.

Union representing faculty and staff say settlement reached under duress

Strikers hold picket signs as cars drive by.
The University of Manitoba Faculty Association says its members have voted in favour of ratifying a four-year contract agreement with the University of Manitoba. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

University of Manitoba students worried about the possibility of a strike interrupting their studies again this school year can breathe a sigh of relief: the school and the union that represents staff and faculty have come to an agreement.

A release from the University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) sent out late Friday says its members have voted in favour of ratifying a four-year settlement.

While that's good news for students, UMFA president Janet Morrill said the settlement was "reached under duress" with members including a caveat in the agreement that gives them the right to reopen negotiations pending the results of a legal challenge launched against the Manitoba government.

"The salaries and compensation — you can tell by what they are — were effectively imposed by the Public Services Sustainability Act (PSSA), even though the act has not been proclaimed," said Morrill. "We're challenging the constitutionality of that but didn't want to wait to find out about the outcome of those challenges, so instead we signed that contract that had those increases but we've reserved our rights with respect to any outcomes of that litigation."

The PSSA, which was passed by the legislature in the spring but hasn't yet officially become law, imposes a two-year wage freeze across the public sector as each collective agreement expires. That would be followed by a 0.75 per cent pay increase in the third year and one per cent in the fourth.

Last November, roughly 1,200 U of M 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.
University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) went on strike and hit the picket lines at the entrance to the university in Winnipeg, Tuesday, November 1, 2016. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods)

That one-year contract expired in March.

The University of Manitoba Faculty Association is part of a court challenge launched in July by Manitoba's public-sector unions arguing that the government's plan undermines collective bargaining rights and is unconstitutional.

Morrill said the decision to move ahead with the agreement before the litigation is settled was made to make sure students aren't feeling anxiety about the risk of a faculty strike as they're starting the school year.

University of Manitoba Students' Union president Tanjit Nagra told CBC News earlier in the summer students were worried that negotiations between the school and UMFA into a new contract weren't progressing fast enough to avoid another strike this year.

Morrill said students' anxieties led the union to approach U of M with an expedited offer.

The new contract includes job protections for academic librarians and instructors, and includes increases to the minimum number of UMFA members required to be on the university payroll, according to the release.

It also follows the PSSA requirements that increases to compensation for the first three years are 0%, 0.75% and 1.0% respectively. The union will head back to the negotiation table in 2020 to figure out salary increases for the final year of the contract.

"I think this was good for everybody," said Morrill of the deal. "I think this is good for our members, it's good for students, and everybody is happy that this looks like it's going to be a regular academic year."

The University of Manitoba Faculty Association represents nearly 1,200 professors, instructors and librarians at the U of M.

With files from Cameron MacLean and the Canadian Press