Hundreds of U of M staff still working but unions encourage support for strikers

It's business as usual for hundreds of employees at the University of Manitoba, such as sessional instructors, food and office staff, but they are being encouraged by three different unions to show support for the roughly 1,200 professors on strike.

3 unions encourage other University of Manitoba staff to join picket line

University of Manitoba faculty staff and supporters walk the picket line Tuesday.

Hundreds of University of Manitoba staff members, including sessional instructors, caretakers and administrative personnel, are required to work during a faculty strike, but unions are encouraging them to show support for the roughly 1,200 strikers.

The University of Manitoba Faculty Association strike began at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday at the Fort Garry and Bannatyne campuses, with a picket line set up by 7 a.m., but some classes and many services are still available at the university.

A spokesperson for Unifor, the union representing 450 cleaning, food and maintenance staff on campus, said while members are obligated to work, the union "fully supports" the strike. 

"Right now we are advising our members to attend work because they don't have any right to refuse to work," said Ken Stuart, Unifor's Manitoba director. "We're encouraging them to join them in the picket line whenever they have an opportunity to do so."

'Morale booster'

Sessional instructors, lecturers, teaching assistants and markers are also legally required to work, but Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3909 is also advising its 1,200 members to support the strike when they're not on the job. A notice on the CUPE website says the presence of staff at the picket line "will be a big morale booster."

The union that represents office staff is giving signs to members who wish to participate in pickets on their own time. 

The Association of Employees Supporting Education Services is also warning employees not to pick up the workloads of faculty who are on strike.

"AESES members cannot be required to perform the work of UMFA members and cannot be ordered to do such work," a notice on the union's website says.

Even the Amalgamated Transit Union, which doesn't have any members employed by the U of M, joined faculty members on the picket line Tuesday morning. 

"It's their right to strike," transit union Local 1505 president John Callahan said. "We stood in solidarity with them."

Meanwhile, Unifor's Stuart said the strike is making him uneasy going into their upcoming negotiations. The union's contract expires in March 2017.

"It makes me concerned," he said. "Are we going to be going into the same situation come March?"

An up-to-date list of courses that are continuing during the strike, classroom scheduling and service changes can be found on the university's website.