UMFA, administration to begin contract negotiations in May

Multi-year collective agreement sought after one-year, expedited talks fall through

Photo by Carolyne Kroeker.

Negotiations toward a multi-year agreement between the University of Manitoba and its faculty are set to get underway in earnest after an attempt to reach an expedited, one-year deal fell through.

In consideration of an “uncertain and constrained fiscal environment,” the university presented the University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) with a one-year, salary-only offer in March.

The offer included a salary increase of 1.5 per cent and additional adjustments for certain ranks and disciplines. Including annual increments already allotted to faculty and staff, the average actual increase would be closer to 3.94 per cent for the 2016-2017 contract year, according to a university release.

UMFA president Mark Hudson said both administration and the union sought a quick resolution given the uncertainties facing the university surrounding the spring provincial election. However, outstanding governance issues critical to the faculty association could not be ironed out through the fast-tracked discussions and the effort was abandoned April 20.

“I think both sides saw some advantage to trying to get a deal done early and quickly but once we took into account the governance issues that our membership saw as crucial, it just became apparent at the table that those were too complex to try to deal with in a very short-term bargaining process,” he said.

The April 19 election saw a Progressive Conservative government elected into office for the first time since 1995. Throughout the campaign, the PCs were mum on commitments toward post-secondary education, aside from a plan to boost the Manitoba Scholarship and Bursary Initiative.

The outstanding governance concerns include the university’s use of performance indicators, job security for academic staff and librarians, teaching loads, and management rights.

The union signalled it would accept the single year offer if a freeze on activities relating to the governance issues was instituted. However, John Danakas, the U of M’s executive director of communications, said the association’s proposal marked a roll-back of current practices.

“An expedited process would not allow for appropriate time to be spent on the important and complex issues raised by UMFA in its response to the university’s salary-only offer,” he said in an email.

“Even the idea of a freeze was complex, as the text provided by UMFA appeared to amount to more than a freeze on upcoming activities and could be interpreted as placing new restrictions on existing activities. Some of these activities are critical to the operation of the university and could not be paused without significant impact.”

The most recent three-year collective agreement expired March 31.

While a deadline to reach a settlement hasn’t been set, Danakas said the university is aiming to have an agreement in place when classes are set to resume in the fall.

“There is a strong desire on the part of the university to ensure the bargaining process does not have a negative impact on student learning and activities,” he said.

“The university made the one-year, salary-only offer in an attempt to secure at least one year of stability and in good faith that longer-term stability could be achieved through future discussions.”

Danakas added that the university has brought new members into its bargaining team in an effort to move away from the traditionally adversarial approach that has carried on well into the fall in previous negotations, saying one of the team’s top priorities is achieving stability for students and their academic year.

Hudson noted the U of M faculty is compensated among the lowest of the U15 group of Canadian research universities but said administration and the association aren’t far apart salary.

“I think that on the financial issues there was a fair degree of agreement about what needs to happen,” he said.

“On finances, obviously, there’s still some disagreement, but both we and the administration recognize that the University of Manitoba faculty are the least well-compensated group in the U15, we’re the least well-compensated in the Saskatchewan 8, so in order to be a competitive university and attract good faculty, we need to make some progress on compensation.”

Professors at the U of M were paid a minimum of $101,423 in the 2014-15 fiscal year. Associate professors made a minimum of $82,599 and assistant professors made a minimum of $70,370.

At the University of Alberta, professors made a minimum of $116,473 annually in 2014-15. Associate professors made a minimum of $93,944, while assistant professors made a minimum of $75,403.

University of Saskatchewan professors earned a minimum of $124,618 in 2014-15, while associate and assistant professors made minimum salaries of $106,708 and $88,798, respectively.

The 2013-16 collective agreement between UMFA and the university saw a 6.9 per cent salary increase over the contract’s term. The previous 2010-13 agreement gave faculty a 4.4 per cent increase.

While a negotiation schedule is still being set, full scale bargaining is expected to begin in May.