Without a collective agreement since April of this year, the University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA), which represents around 1,200 academic workers including professors, instructors and academic librarians at the university, is calling for a strike vote.
The union has called a special general meeting for Oct. 6 to consider a motion to call a strike vote that would take place from Oct. 16 to 18.
Last year the union came close to striking after negotiations with the university reached an impasse, with an agreement being met during mediation in November that year.
According to UMFA president Orvie Dingwall, the top concerns of the union centre around salaries and academic freedom. She indicated the issues this time around are largely the same as last year’s.
“Since 2016 we haven’t been able to freely and fairly bargain our collective agreement, particularly on salary,” she said.
In 2017, the provincial government passed the Public Services Sustainability Act, which froze wages for over 120,000 workers in the public service for two years and further capped their wage increases for another two.
The caps in pay increases were below the rate of inflation, at 0.75 per cent and then one per cent — meaning even the nominal maximum legal raise in wages would still represent a cut in terms of real wages.
In June 2020, courts ruled the legislation was unconstitutional and struck it down. In January of this year, the provincial government filed an appeal to the decision.
The union has raised concerns that compensation has fallen behind that of other provinces, pointing toward potential issues in terms of attracting and retaining staff.
Dingwall contends the legislation continues to play a role in UMFA’s negotiations with the university.
According to Dingwall, the position of the university in negotiations represents limitations on academic freedom.
“The administration [has] a proposal included in their package that would put limits on UMFA members’ ability to do outside professional activity,” she said.
This would include work in the community such as the music faculty doing performances or private lessons.
“The university wants more control, they want every single time a member wants to do one of these activities to check in with the dean first,” she said.
“We think that that’s a limit on academic freedom and we also think that that’s putting unnecessary control and constraint on our members, and so we’re not okay with that.”
In a press release issued Sept. 29, Dingwall said the union has been reaching out for meetings with MLAs from the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba.
“We have met with a number of MLAs from the NDP and Liberal MLAs as well, including both Wab Kinew and Dougald Lamont,” Dingwall said.
“I’ve been hearing from so many members [that] they’ve been really collaborative and certainly the NDP and the Liberals are both against government interference in collective bargaining and they’re also against government interference in how the university runs.”
The New Democratic Party of Manitoba (NDP) has launched a petition which stated that “The PCs are trying to interfere in universities again — so they can dictate how faculty teach and what programs are funded.”
“Partisan agendas don’t belong in universities. The PCs should stop interfering,” the petition continued.
The union has also set a meeting with UMSU for Oct. 6 to discuss the strike vote. The meeting will be to keep communications open between the unions so UMSU has updates as soon as possible, but also to ask for the support of students.
Dingwall stressed in an interview the last thing workers want to do is go on strike, but that it is necessary. The well-being of students remains the top priority for the union.
“Talk to your professors, instructors and librarians and ask them about what the wage freeze since 2016 has meant to them, and let’s just have a conversation,” she said.
“Nobody ever wants to go on strike. There is still lots of time for the university to come with a fair and reasonable salary offer.”