The University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) is accusing the province of illegitimately interfering in its collective bargaining process with the university after the Progressive Conservative government directed the U of M to extend its existing contract for a year without a salary increase.
In a joint release issued by U of M president David Barnard and UMFA president Mark Hudson Friday afternoon, the parties – who have been negotiating a new collective agreement since May – said the province forwarded a directive this week calling for a compensation freeze.
“This 11th hour action represents illegitimate government interference in a constitutionally-protected process of collective bargaining,” Hudson said in the release.
Issued after the first negotiating session since the two sides agreed to mediation earlier this week, the release says the province is looking to stabilize public sector compensation levels by asking public bodies, including the U of M, to stretch current contracts an additional year.
“The [University of Manitoba] is an independent body whose board must have the autonomy to engage in all aspects of negotiation,” Hudson said. “The province has unnecessarily endangered a complex negotiation through this misguided interference, and its action has jeopardized the educational goals of every [U of M] student.
“UMFA is currently exploring legal options, and continues to focus on negotiating a fair deal for its members.”
The two sides agreed to mediation earlier this week after the faculty union, representing close to 1,200 professors, researchers, and librarians, set a Nov. 1 deadline to reach a new agreement before picket lines go up.
“We now find ourselves in the unusual circumstance of having a newly articulated provincial mandate regarding public sector compensation levels that will have a profound impact on the final compensation levels that we will be able to negotiate, despite having already made what we believe to be a fair and reasonable offer,” Barnard said in the release.
In September, the university presented the union with a four-year settlement offer, which included an average salary increase of 17.5 per cent over the four years.
Saying the offer fell short of addressing issues critical to the union – including collegial governance and performance indicator concerns – the union responded with a one-year proposal, which included an average 6.9 per cent salary increase.
Manitoba Minister of Finance Cameron Friesen said in an email from his office that the PCs, elected in April, inherited fiscal challenges that require stabilization over the long term.
“Our government was given a clear mandate by Manitobans to fix the province’s finances, to secure and protect the services we all depend upon,” he said.
“While we are not going to comment on these negotiations, we will continue to urge all public stakeholders to work cooperatively within this very challenging environment.”
University of Manitoba Students’ Union president Tanjit Nagra called the intervention worrying and said the government interference confirms her suspicions that the PC administration is no friend to the public service.
“I am extremely worried about where this is going to put the 30,000 students next week,” she said.
“It sounds like there is going to be a strike and I don’t know how long it is going to last but it sounds like there won’t be an agreement any time soon and that worries me a lot because it will affect the term for many students.”
Since mediation began this week, the mediator has put both the university and faculty association under a media blackout surrounding negotiation status.