Manitoba

U of M faculty to strike after negotiations reach impasse day before deadline: union

The University of Manitoba Faculty Association says it has reached an “impasse” in its contract negotiations, one day before a strike deadline. 

University of Manitoba Faculty Association members voted to authorize strike deadline of Nov. 2

Faculty at the University of Manitoba will be on strike on Tuesday, the union representing them says on Monday. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

Faculty at Manitoba's largest university are on the verge of a strike after their union says it has reached an "impasse" in its contract negotiations, one day before a strike deadline. 

Mediation had "failed to produce an agreement that prioritized faculty recruitment and retention," the University of Manitoba Faculty Association said in a news release on Monday.

Last month, union members voted to authorize strike action, with a deadline set for Nov. 2.

"The University of Manitoba administration has chosen not to invest in the future of our faculty and our university, leaving us no choice except to strike," Orvie Dingwall, UMFA President, wrote in the release.

The union represents 1,200 professors, instructors, archivists and librarians at the university.

In the release, the union reiterated its call on newly elected Progressive Conservative Leader Heather Stefanson to abandon the provincial government's wage mandate, which the union has said interferes with its negotiations.

On Saturday, supporters of the union gathered outside Victoria Inn in west Winnipeg, where the Progressive Conservatives were announcing their new leader and next premier of Manitoba.

In a statement giving a detailed breakdown of its offer on the university's website, administrators said their latest offer included across-the-board general salary increases of 1.25 per cent over two years, as well as changes in the salary structure amounting to an average of 9.5 per cent increase over two years. 

After 18 meetings without an agreement since negotiations began on Aug. 5, both parties asked for mediation. The university said it is willing to continue with mediation, but the union has chosen to go ahead with a strike. 

"We strongly believe it's a fair deal as it would allow us to recruit new faculty with more competitive offers, support faculty retention, and ensure faculty wages remain competitive with their U15 counterparts as they advance in their careers," president and vice-chancellor Michael Benarroch said in the statement.

The union says wages at the U of M rank second-last out of 15 research-based institutions, causing persistent retention and recruitment problems.

The province passed legislation freezing wages for public-sector employees in 2017. That was struck down in court, with a judge saying it violated certain rights and limited unions' bargaining power, but last month, the government won its appeal of that that ruling.

The president of the University of Manitoba Students' Union said it's frustrating that negotiations have come to this point — especially five years after faculty members last went on strike in 2016.

"It makes U of M a less desirable place to come and learn because they're constantly having to deal with this again. Other institutions don't have to deal with this kind of problem," said Brandon Scott.

Although the student union supports the faculty members in their bid for higher pay, Scott said they recognize the university has its "hands tied" by the provincial government.

The union called a strike vote last year, but managed to come to an agreement with the province to avoid faculty walking off the job. Students had hoped another deal could have been reached this time, as well.

"I know students are probably fed up with it happening all the time and having their degrees and programs delayed, or affected," Scott said.

"And more than anything, it's just uncertainty that causes so much anxiety with the students."

With files from Marianne Klowak and Cameron MacLean

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