University of Manitoba faculty wants province to leave wage talks alone

The University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) wants to leave negotiations on a new deal with faculty up to their group and the school that employs them — not the provincial government.

The University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) wants to leave negotiations on a new deal with faculty up to their group and the school that employs them — not the provincial government.

Just days before members are set to vote on strike action, the union is speaking out against what it calls “continued interference” by the governing Progressive Conservatives in ongoing talks with the University of Manitoba.

“It’s really sad,” UMFA Vice President Erik Thomson laments.

“(University of Manitoba President Michael) Bennaroch recognizes we need to be paid more in order to recruit and retain good professors, but we need the flexibility to bargain freely.”

The Faculty Association authorized a strike vote earlier this month in search of wage increases — something members haven’t seen for half a decade.

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The province’s Public Services Sustainability Act was passed in 2017 but it was never put into legislation, though the province held out the possibility of amending it.

However, groups such as the Canadian Union For Public Employees say it continues to affect contract talks.

Thomson says it’s not the first time the PC’s have swayed negotiations between these two parties.

“(In 2016), it caused the University to take a salary offer off the table. In this case, they’re giving a mandate which the university could choose to disobey, but we’d like it if they just took their hands off collective bargaining.”

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President Bennaroch said in a U of M Senate meeting last week that the mandate includes salary increases capped at one per cent in the next two years and, and 1.25 per cent in the two years afterward.

UMFA says it wants salaries more in line with similar institutions across the country, as well as more equitable hiring, tenure and promotional processes.

Sachin Katyal, an Assistant Professor at the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, says the school will suffer as long as wages are below that of other competing schools.

“If you want the best, you recruit the best — not settle for the 10th best,” he explans. “Continued interference will have a domino effect on the future health of Manitobans, as we’ll no longer have the expertise to resolve the next pandemic, or prevent and cure cancer.”

While UMFA understands the University doesn’t have to abide by the province’s word, Thomson feels their hand is forced.

“I assume the University is frightened of having its government grant reduced by the amount they would pay to us.”

He says that’s what happened in 2020 when faculty received a $2,000 stipend after the Act was deemed unconstitutional.

Katyal says no stipend will solve the province’s current recruitment issues.

“A recent potential recruit told me, two years after rejecting the University of Manitoba offer, that he fe

Opposition parties in the Manitoba Legislature also believe the PCs are overstepping.

Thomson doesn’t see any point in the province’s involvement.

“The University is financially healthy. They banked over $90 million last year, despite the challenges of COVID-19,” he said.

“Tuition has increased, but the pay of professors and instructors has not.”

In a statement to Global News, the province says it’s staying an arms-length away from the process.

“Government is not the employer and is obviously not at the bargaining table making offers and counter-offers. We urge both the University and UMFA to continue bargaining in good faith, directly and not through the media,” a spokesperson says.

“For almost 40 years, governments of different political stripes have set broad public sector bargaining mandates, given their responsibilities to all Manitobans over public funds. Mischaracterizing this traditional role, or inaccurately attributing specific bargaining proposals to government, is not helpful.”

The school says the mandates from the province are nothing new.

“The University of Manitoba continues to meet with UMFA’s bargaining team with the view to conclude a collective agreement that supports stability in operations; an outstanding educational experience for our students; fairness to our faculty members; and sustainability for our institution,” a spokesperson tells Global News.

The two sides meet next on Oct. 15, just a day before the union’s members will vote on a potential strike Oct. 16-18.

Results are expected to be made public on Tuesday, Oct. 19.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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