Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

U of W labour talks at impasse

Cash issues cited; conciliator tapped

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Contract talks between the University of Winnipeg and its professors have stalled over money.

Education and Advanced Learning Minister James Allum agreed Friday to appoint a conciliator.

The U of W's vice-president of finance and administration, Bill Balan, said on the university website money remains the major stumbling block to a new contract, but did not provide details.

U of W Faculty Association president Prof. Hugh Grant said earlier this week professors had no comment on talks, and could he not be reached Friday.

The UWFA has been without a contract since March 2013.

'It's too early in the process for us to speculate about a strike'

-- Jeremy Read, senior executive officer and adviser to U of W president Lloyd Axworthy

The last deal was reached within mere hours of the first faculty strike in U of W history.

"It's too early in the process for us to speculate about a strike," Jeremy Read, senior executive officer and adviser to president Lloyd Axworthy, said Friday.

Read declined to disclose details of the two sides' positions.

The U of W's faculty contract expired the same day last year as the previous deal at the University of Manitoba, and Grant said at that time professors at the U of W were waiting to see the settlement at the U of M before getting serious about negotiations.

With only hours to go before U of M professors went on strike in October, they reached an agreement that spells trouble for the U of W.

The U of M Faculty Association settled for a three-year deal with annual raises of 2.9, two and two per cent, amounts that raised some eyebrows.

Read would not say if the U of W's professors are trying to match the Manitoba settlement, but did say the U of W prefers to use "peer" universities across Canada as its basis of comparison.

The U of W's website contains a troubled budget forecast for 2014-15. While it does not say how much the U of W expects to be paying its profs, the forecast says the university expects to have to find $2 million in cuts or additional revenue to balance its budget, expected to come in just above $100 million.

Those numbers don't account for any new hires, or for avoiding taking out additional loans to cover an ongoing pension-contributions deficit.

That forecast also assumes favourable enrolment and the province's providing both a 2.5 per cent increase in grants -- by no means a certainty -- and provincial growth that allows tuition fees to go up by two per cent.

Balan said the two sides exchanged money proposals Jan. 10, and by this past Wednesday, had concluded they need a conciliator.

"Through the collective bargaining process, the University and UWFA have resolved governance issues and language changes, leaving only compensation-related issues outstanding," Balan said.

"The University of Winnipeg remains committed to achieving a new collective agreement, including reasonable increases to salary and benefits with our faculty members, within our financial means."

"As we have communicated on numerous occasions, the University of Winnipeg receives a proportionally smaller annual operating grant per student from the province than other Manitoba universities," Balan said.

"We want to assure students, staff and faculty that we will make every effort to keep the campus community informed."

The U of W will update the labour talks from its perspective at http://wfp.to/T4L

Read said the university currently has no plans to bargain publicly by posting financial details of proposals on its website.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 18, 2014 A14

History

Updated on Saturday, January 18, 2014 at 12:41 PM CST: adds link

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