U of Manitoba faculty union says university hemorrhaging talent due to low salaries

The University of Manitoba Faculty Association says consistently low salaries at the province’s largest university are leading to a "brain drain" of talent ahead of a vote on whether to hit the picket lines.

Province interfering with collective bargaining, U of M Faculty Association says

The University of Manitoba Faculty Association, with members of the Manitoba NDP and the Liberal Party, hold a news conference about government involvement in collective bargaining. (Ian Froese/CBC)

The University of Manitoba Faculty Association says consistently low salaries at the province's largest university are leading to a "brain drain" of talent ahead of a vote on whether to hit the picket lines. 

The union called the strike vote last week, saying negotiations have stalled because of restrictions imposed by the provincial government.

The contract the U of M is offering its faculty is a three-year deal, with salary increases of 0.75 per cent, 0.75 per cent and one per cent, starting this year. 

The union said the deal is similar to the salary increases stipulated in the province's controversial wage-freeze legislation, Bill 28, introduced in 2017. It called for two years with no increases for public-sector workers, followed by small increases.

The legislation has not been proclaimed into law and was the subject of a legal challenge, but the government has required some of its employers to freeze wages or restrict wage increases since then. 

UMFA president Orvie Dingwall said Wednesday the province's meddling in contract negotiations has led to salaries that are too low to attract and retain faculty. 

"When there is interference in our collective bargaining, our faculty members, they don't come or they don't stay," she said at a news conference. 

"It's a clear ask: stop interfering in our collective bargaining so we can negotiate reasonable salary wages and sustain the future of university education here in Manitoba."

The University of Manitoba's average salary in 2020-21 for all faculty, including deans, was $136,925, Statistics Canada says. That puts it among the lowest in the U15, a collective of 15 of Canada's most research-intensive universities. 

The only member of the U15 with a lower average salary was Laval University, which has an average salary of $131,950.

Dr. Sachin Katyal, a cancer researcher and associate professor in the U of M's faculty of health sciences, said the university has lost out on several talented and innovative health researchers because they were offered better pay elsewhere. 

A recent candidate thought his salary offer "was a joke," he said.

"We are hemorrhaging talented health researchers, who are taking their grants, their labs, their job training opportunities, their innovations, and heading to other provinces." 

The loss of these researchers means less grant money and fewer training opportunities for students, he said. 

Members of both the Manitoba NDP and the Liberal Party spoke at Wednesday's news conference in solidarity with UMFA. 

In response, Minister of Advanced Education Wayne Ewasko said he urged the union to continue bargaining in good faith "directly, and not through the media or members of the opposition."

He added that for decades, governments have set broad public sector bargaining mandates to meet their obligations to manage public funds. 

"Mischaracterizing this traditional role, or inaccurately attributing specific bargaining proposals to government, is not helpful," he said in an email.

"No one wants a strike, especially in the middle of a pandemic." 

The strike vote will take place from Oct. 16 to 18, with results to be released Oct. 19. 

The university and UMFA narrowly avoided a strike last year, reaching a tentative agreement just a day before members were set to walk off the job.

The faculty last went on strike for 21 days in 2016. 

With files from Ian Froese