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U of M president critical of union as strike looms

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With the threat of a strike by University of Manitoba professors next week, president David Barnard has fired a shot across the faculty association's bow.

"I am disappointed that the University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) leadership appears set on taking strike action next week," Barnard said in a message to staff and students Thursday.

"A strike will be harmful to our students and, indeed, the entire community. Let me assure you that we are doing everything we can to avoid a disruptive and unnecessary strike."

The faculty association has set next Tuesday as a strike date, though it has not yet made an official announcement.

The U of M has set up a website to keep students informed at www.umanitoba.ca/strikeinfo.

Conciliation began Wednesday and is scheduled for today, Saturday and Sunday.

Marketing and communications director John Danakas said the conciliator would likely ask the two parties not to comment on the substance of talks while they're ongoing.

UMFA members voted 68 per cent last week in favour of going on strike.

"The University of Manitoba has offered our faculty a four-year agreement with an 8.9 per cent salary increase," Barnard said in his message. "It is important that we compensate our faculty fairly and competitively. Our proposed four-year agreement would ensure long-term stability and certainty for our students."

UMFA has countered with a two-year proposal of 2.9 per cent each year, which compounds to 5.9 per cent.

The two sides are split over the union's belief the university is threatening academic freedom and tenure, allegations the U of M denies.

UMFA also fears what the university's plans to reduce the number of faculties by one-third by 2017 will do to tenure and to professors suddenly finding themselves swallowed up in a much larger body. Announcing the merger of several faculties into some form of health sciences faculty is imminent.

In an open letter to students posted on its website (umfa.ca) late Wednesday, UMFA explained why academic freedom is at the heart of the strike, and asked students to respect picket lines.

Barnard responded to the academic-freedom issue in his message: "I want to be clear that we have not put forward anything in this bargaining process that would erode the academic freedom enjoyed by our faculty. We have not proposed a performance-management system for UMFA members. Nor have we introduced any restrictions on research for UMFA members."

UMFA went on strike in 1995 and 2001 and came within hours of striking on several other occasions.

-- staff

A message from David T. Barnard, President & Vice-Chancellor, University of Manitoba

I am disappointed that the University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) leadership appears set on taking strike action next week.

A strike will be harmful to our students and, indeed, the entire community. Let me assure you that we are doing everything we can to avoid a disruptive and unnecessary strike.

The University of Manitoba has offered our faculty a four-year agreement with an 8.9 per cent salary increase. It is important that we compensate our faculty fairly and competitively. Our proposed four-year agreement would ensure long-term stability and certainty for our students.

I want to be clear that we have not put forward anything in this bargaining process that would erode the academic freedom enjoyed by our faculty. We have not proposed a performance management system for UMFA members. Nor have we introduced any restrictions on research for UMFA members.

We have suggested moving to binding arbitration to take the threat of a strike off the table. Arbitration would ensure the uninterrupted continuation of the academic year. This process would require UMFA and the University to present their cases to a third-party who would have the authority to mandate an agreement.

In a show of good faith, the University of Manitoba expressed its willingness to use a person UMFA had recommended to act as an intermediary, to serve as an arbitrator. Unfortunately, UMFA leadership rejected this offer. Accepting this offer would have avoided a strike and enabled students to continue an uninterrupted academic year.

We strongly encourage UMFA leadership to accept our offer to resolve this dispute through arbitration so as to avoid an unnecessary strike. Let's put our positions before an independent arbitrator, call off the strike and continue building an excellent university. Our students deserve nothing less.

Students - who are at the heart of my concern today - can access updated information at www.umanitoba.ca/strikeinfo and be assured that you will receive information the minute it becomes available.

I also encourage the entire university community to review all of the information available including our rationale document that was provided to UMFA leaders in September. The document is located at www.umanitoba.ca under the bargaining updates icon. It is an accurate, detailed presentation of where the University of Manitoba stands on matters.

The University of Manitoba remains committed to bargaining in good faith and will work diligently to prevent any disruption to students. I remain hopeful, even at this eleventh hour, that we can reach an agreement, or at least a process, that allows us to move forward without disrupting our students and the university community.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 18, 2013 A15

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