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Talks ongoing to avert faculty strike

U of M professors could walk on Tuesday

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Last-ditch efforts to avoid a faculty strike at the University of Manitoba continue today.

Negotiators for the university and the faculty association spent most of Sunday with provincially appointed mediator Michael Werier.

Talks ended shortly before 9 p.m. Sunday and are scheduled to resume later this morning.

"We remain hopeful that a settlement will be reached and classes will continue Tuesday and beyond," U of M spokesman John Danakas said last night. "We will keep students, staff and others informed of any updates on the strike info website, through emails and through social media platforms."

UMFA president Sharon Alward said the association would not make a comment while involved in mediation.

'We remain hopeful that a settlement will be reached...'

Classes and other campus events are going ahead today as planned, Danakas said.

The two sides head for a strike deadline with very different agendas. The faculty association recently posted an open letter on its website stating the labour dispute revolved around the independence of the faculty: a professor's right to criticize the university and to freely choose research without interference.

But the university countered, saying academic freedom and faculty independence are not threatened, and have offered to go to binding arbitration.

The faculty association has rejected binding arbitration, saying the complex and subtle issues should be decided between the parties.

On the money side, the university has offered the faculty a four-year deal with wage increases of 2.9 per cent the first year and two per cent for each of the following three years; UMFA has countered with a two-year proposal of 2.9 per cent per year.

The faculty association set Tuesday as the strike date, but no official announcement has been released.

UMFA members voted 68 per cent in favour of going on strike. UMFA last went on strike in 2001 but came close again in successive negotiations.

Negotiations hit a major stumbling block Friday night when talks with a conciliator reached an impasse after several days. That prompted the province to immediately appoint a mediator in hopes of avoiding a strike at the province's largest university.

U of M president David Barnard said in a news release that a strike could be avoided if the faculty agreed to let the unresolved issues be settled through binding arbitration, adding the university was prepared to let the faculty choose the arbitrator.

"Accepting this offer would have avoided a strike and enabled students to continue an uninterrupted academic year," Barnard said.

The faculty association say the issues need to be resolved at the bargaining table, not imposed by an arbitrator.

"We cannot allow (academic freedom) to be eroded by decisions imposed by an arbitrator," UMFA said.

In a release Friday night, the faculty association repeated its position that academic independence is at stake.

"The administration continues to refuse to add language to the collective agreement that would protect the rights of faculty members to speak about the administration and to exercise their civil rights as individuals, including their right to contribute to social change through free expression of opinion on matters of public interest, without fear of reprisal."

The faculty said it is seeking only what most other Canadian universities have given their professors.

"The majority of collective agreements at Canadian universities contain language that explicitly protects the rights of academics to criticize university administrations and protects their civil right to speak out on matters of public interest without fear of administrative reprisal."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 21, 2013 B1

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