The University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA), the union representing academic staff at the U of M, voted to approve a strike vote at its special general meeting Oct. 6.
The vote will take place electronically from Oct. 16 to 18 and all members of the bargaining unit will be eligible to participate.
According to a document on UMFA’s website, should a majority of members vote “yes,” the executive council of the union will be authorized to call a strike if one is necessary.
“A ‘yes’ vote doesn’t necessarily mean there will be a strike,” read the document.
“A strong vote on its own might see the administration start to take bargaining seriously, where up until now they’ve made no significant moves at the bargaining table.”
In the event of a strike, faculty will cease all “teaching, supervision, advising, library, service and administrative duties,” with members expected to contribute job action at least three hours per day from Monday to Friday if they wish to receive strike benefits.
These benefits amount to $200 per shift.
Those on research and study leave will not be affected by job action and will be able to continue to perform their duties.
Provincial interference woes resurface
Wages for faculty have effectively been frozen since the passage of the 2017 Public Services Sustainability Act. Although the legislation was struck down by courts, the provincial government launched an appeal to the decision in January of this year.
During negotiations last year, it was revealed that the provincial government had mandated no salary increases for the 2020-21 academic year occur.
At a U of M senate meeting Oct. 6, U of M president Michael Benarroch stated this year there is another mandate from the province to cap salary increases at 0.75 per cent for two years and 1 per cent in the final year.
“This provincial government needs to stop interfering in negotiations,” said UMFA president Orvie Dingwall in a press release.
“And we need the university to come to the bargaining table with a reasonable salary offer so we can negotiate a fair deal.”
Other professors and unionists offered their thoughts on the state of the current labour dispute on Twitter.
“Most people would be surprised by what a small proportion of the university budget is made up by faculty salaries,” said Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations president Scott Forbes in a tweet Oct. 8.
“Salaries of the admin infrastructure are larger & grow larger year by year. Professors are becoming almost an afterthought.”
Dingwall has previously indicated that in addition to salary, faculty are also concerned about what they view as infringements on their academic freedom, with the university pushing for measures which would require faculty members engaging in outside activity to clear it with their respective deans first.
Students organizing in support of faculty
School of Fine Art Student Association representative on the UMSU board of directors Travis Hunnie said that he and other students are “pre-emptively” organizing in support of faculty as part of a small organization called Students Supporting UMFA.
“We recognize the struggle that the faculty association is going through right now in their labour dispute,” he said.
“We want to stand in solidarity with them.”
The purpose of the group is to have a centralized organization to tackle larger pro-UMFA campaigns.
“Our faculty wants what is best for the students and the administration knows that, which is why they continue to take advantage of them,” he said in an emailed follow-up statement.
“The voices of students are important in this struggle, and if we feel strongly that UMFA isn’t getting a fair deal, we need to make that known. Spread the word, make it public and tell the administration directly that this is not okay.”
Those wishing to participate in student organizing supporting UMFA can reach out to
UMSU president Brendan Scott said at the Oct. 7 board of directors meeting that the place to find unbiased information about the ongoing negotiations is the university’s website.
Detailed information can also be found on the union’s website.
The UMSU board of directors is expected to receive presentations from representatives of the university and UMFA later this month.