Tensions mount at town hall

Tensions mounted at the University of Manitoba president’s town hall meeting last Thursday, where president David Barnard responded to some tough questions from U of M faculty, staff and students on the university’s labour practices, budget and infrastructure.

The town hall was held to discuss the university’s Outstanding Workplace Initiative, a project launched in late 2010 to help improve the university as a work environment.

The meeting began with a brief presentation on the project, which included a video on the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy (MCHP), after which Barnard fielded questions from university community members in attendance.

Frank Wright, chair of Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) Local 3007, the union that represents several support staff at the U of M, asked about the recent deal between Aramark and the university that will see the company take over management of Caretaking Services in June. Four assistant managers and one manager have lost their jobs as a result of the deal.

Wright said that some caretaking staff were concerned about their job security.
U of M vice-president (administration) Debbie McCallum said that while the decision was very difficult for the university to make, but that they “think [they] can improve services” at the university with the deal. She noted that the deal will save the university approximately $400,000 annually, which could be reallocated to other areas in need.

McCallum explained that Caretaking Services staff are not expected to be affected by the deal.

When asked if the contract was available for review, McCallum said it was not but told Wright that she would be happy to sit down with CAW to discuss their concerns.

One student working for Food Services said she felt that students working for the university are often expected to work harder than older employees who are not students, but were not fairly compensated for their efforts.

Barnard affirmed that he would like to see better practices in effect at the university but said the meeting was not the appropriate place to deal with the concern over Food Services.

Matt McLean, vice-president (students) for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3909, pointed out that student sessional instructors are also paid substantially less than their non-student counterparts.

University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) president Cam Morrill raised concerns with the university’s policies on disability benefits for faculty members. He said that members of UMFA found that the plan discriminates against younger employees and recent immigrants.

It was also confirmed that after 65, university staff are no longer eligible to apply for disability compensation.

Zachary Leclerc, a residence student in the faculty of science, asked administrators why there was no student consultation on the decision to ban party buses on campus. He pointed out that the decision made it very difficult for residence advisors to plan events for students over the past semester.
McCallum said that the party buses were eliminated because the administration felt they encouraged over drinking. She said that the buses gave students “a false sense of security.”

“Most universities have banned party buses,” said McCallum, stressing that the ban was over a safety issue.

“What’s safer,” having students drinking and driving or having them drink too much on a bus? Leclerc argued.

University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) vice-president (student services) Matt Hepner pointed out that four students died as a result of drinking and driving in October.

“Why were they drinking and driving?” McCallum responded. “It’s not our responsibility to provide buses so they can overdrink.”

Hepner also argued that the universities who had banned the buses on their campuses were in cities with more efficient transportation systems than Winnipeg.

Chemistry professor Philip Hultin said he felt that the video showing the workspace for the MCHP “only sums up everything that is wrong with the university.”

He said he felt there were many dichotomies between certain units on campus and said it was creating a negative work environment when offices in certain departments have no ceilings but employees can view new buildings being built outside their window.

“This video sums up why I am not happy to be working at the University of Manitoba,” he said.

In response, Barnard said the U of M continues to be “substantially” underfunded and recognized the realities of the university’s budget constraints.