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U of M takes faculty contract talks public

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THE University of Manitoba has taken its crucial faculty contract talks public -- it's offering professors 8.9 per cent over four years.

Vice-president of administration Paul Kochan reported on the U of M's website the university has offered the faculty association 2.9 per cent in the first year of a four-year deal retroactive to April 1, and two per cent raises in each of the next three years.

Contracts coincide

All eyes at the University of Winnipeg are on the University of Manitoba showdown.

It's rare that the two universities' contracts coincide -- both schools' previous deals expired March 31.

The U of W was hours away from a strike in 2010 before faculty settled for 3.3 per cent over three years.

Bargaining has yet to start but should begin any day now, said U of W Faculty Association president Prof. Hugh Grant, who expected U of M's situation would affect U of W's bargaining.

U of W Students Association president Megan Fultz said "it's going to be interesting what happens at U of M, and how informing that will be to what happens here."

Kochan told the campus the U of M Faculty Association's plans to call a strike vote forced the university to go public.

Not so, UMFA president Prof. Sharon Alward said Tuesday. Tonight's union meeting is to ask for authorization to call a strike vote if and when the union believes it is necessary to hold one, she said -- there's no strike vote tonight.

Alward said UMFA will not bargain publicly but is disappointed and surprised at Kochan's actions.

"UMFA believes it's still bargaining in good faith" and remains hopeful a deal can be reached that will not disrupt the school year, Alward said. She would not comment further.

However, an internal UMFA communiqué raises fears among professors the university is threatening academic freedom and tenure in its proposal.

UMFA told its members the university is proposing new language that would significantly limit the ability of professors to criticize the employer. And the union said the university wants to limit the research, journal publications, and research dollars a professor could use to support a tenure application.

Tenure is a cherished status among professors, for which they apply after about six years -- while not guaranteeing a job for life, tenure means a professor's knowledge, research, teaching and overall abilities have been judged by her or his peers, making it very difficult to ever be dismissed.

For his part, Kochan rejected any suggestion the university is threatening tenure or academic freedom.

UMFA said it accepts the 2.9 per cent offered in year one, but would agree only to a second year of 2.9 per cent in a two-year contract. The union said the U of M is also offering a lump sum raise of $500 to some professors, which UMSU would only accept if the U of M extended that raise to everyone in the bargaining unit. The two sides disagree whether the U of M is trying to tie in some sort of new performance clause to professors' pay.

UMFA went on strike in 1995 and 2001, and has generally bargained down to the wire. The 2010-13 contract called for a $500-lump sum in the first year, one per cent in the second year, and 2.9 per cent in the third year.

U of M spokesman John Danakas declined Tuesday to say whether the university is preparing for a strike. "We're still hopeful we'll achieve a settlement. The priority for the university is to work with the faculty association to achieve a settlement," he said.

The U of M has been chopping millions of dollars across campus after the province reneged on its five-per-cent grants pledge and raised grants only 2.5 per cent this academic year.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 2, 2013 A6

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