U of M, faculty go head-to-head before labour board

Allegations the University of Manitoba engaged in unfair labour practices will come to a head Tuesday when Manitoba Labour Board hearings begin over a complaint filed by the University of Manitoba Faculty Association last fall.

UMFA blames fall strike on U of M; university says it's confident in its position

The University of Manitoba Faculty Association says the University of Manitoba's administration engaged in unfair labour practices. (Bert Savard/CBC)

Hearings began Tuesday at the Manitoba Labour Board to determine whether the University of Manitoba engaged in unfair labour practices last fall during contract negotiations with faculty. 

The hearings stem from a complaint made by the University of Manitoba Faculty Association last November, during the height of the three-week strike at the University of Manitoba. The complaint alleged administration failed to disclose communications from the provincial government asking the university to freeze faculty salaries.

Most of the Tuesday's hearing was occupied by sworn testimony from UMFA's president, Mark Hudson. Greg Juliano, the U of M's associate vice-president of human resources, testified in the last hour of the hearing.

Hudson was grilled by lawyers representing the university on whether salary increases were top priority for UMFA or if the union was more concerned with how the university was governed.

Hudson acknowledged that the Sept. 13 proposal by the university that included a one per cent increase and three years of two per cent increases was unacceptable to the faculty association.

In his brief testimony, Juliano said that the Pallister government wasn't alone in mandating wage freezes. The former NDP government did the same thing in 2011 and 2012; faculty did not receive a raise in those years.

Hearings continue Wednesday

Hearings will continue on Wednesday, when Juliano is expected to be questioned by lawyers representing UMFA in regards to the letter he received from Gerry Irving, the province's secretary of public-sector compensation.

The letter allegedly suggests the university withdraw its Sept. 13 four-year salary proposal and replace it with a salary freeze for one year.

It further states that UMFA's collective bargaining team was not made aware of the communication between the U of M and Irving until Oct. 27.

"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.

The 21-day strike ended on Nov. 21 when UMFA — which represents 1,200 professors, instructors and librarians — signed a one-year agreement which included a wage freeze. 

In March, the Progressive Conservatives introduced a bill which would take wages off the bargaining table for the public sector and health-care workers. Once the bill is passed, any new contract would be mandated to include a two-year wage freeze, followed by 0.75 per cent in the third year, and one per cent in the fourth.

If the board rules in UMFA's favour, it could order the university to compensate each of the faculty members who lost wages and benefits during the strike. It is also ask the board to order the university to restore the offer made in the Sept. 13 proposal and immediately restart the collective bargaining process. 

More hearings are scheduled for June and October.