I've been getting ripped royally this week by instructors and support staff at Red River College and Assiniboine Community College over the upcoming ratification vote on the colleges' latest offer.
Getting ripped royally isn't exactly unknown territory.
What's unusual is that that, by quoting directly from the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union for my stories, I'm getting hammered by the rank and file for supposedly publishing incorrect information and failing to check my facts.
Sides rarely bargain through the media, though they're always welcome from our end to do so. I can't recall many who do so, though back when Mario Santos was a trustee and school board chair, Winnipeg School Division would sometimes bargain through the media. But I digress.
The MGEU has been somewhat forthcoming in advance of the vote, with its members already in a strike position, and facing a provincial government that wants its own employees to take a two-year wage freeze and would prefer that other public sector workers with whom it doesn't bargain directly do the same.
Earlier this week, the MGEU told me that the overall package is worth 10 per cent over four years, and is retroactive to last summer. MGEU says wages are the biggest component of the increase, which along with benefits and pensions add up to a 10 per cent overall improvement over four years, said the union, though the MGEU would not release specific numbers or details.
Members of the bargaining unit challenged their own union over that one, saying there's no way it's a 10 per cent package, and several were kind enough to send me the formal offer placed before them.
It's a complex deal. There's a wage freeze this coming school year and the year after. There's cash covering the past year when college staff were without a contract, that cash is specifically not to be built into the contract. There are two raises for support staff and three for instructors during June of 2012. There are improved health and dental benefits which appear to be contingent upon the members agreeing to two unpaid days of work, in 2011 and possibly other years. There's a subsidized transit pass for 2011. There's a layoff security clause with what appear to be pretty big exemptions, such as a significant reduction in external funding -- no numbers, no definition, it appears to give the colleges wiggle room to lay off if they don't like the provincial operating grants any given year.
Now comes another complaint about me from a faculty member at the Notre Dame campus of Red River College. Full marks to the instructor -- in going beyond the normal criticism of an article's accuracy, he went after my honesty and integrity, and signed his name.
Here's what he says:
"I was disturbed to read yet another article by Nick Martin, detailing a contract offer that he knows nothing about. In both July 14 and 15 articles, he writes that the colleges offered a deal similar to Hydro's early on in the bargaining process. This didn't happen. At no time was an offer like that tabled. It was hinted at a few times but an offer that rich was never made.
"I'm not sure if there are any ethical or legal restraints in place for the press in regards to honest reporting, but they seem to have been overlooked by Mr. Martin. If he doesn't know the correct facts, perhaps he should research them before making a public statement that is false."
What he's referring to is the section of my articles that says that early in the bargaining a year ago, Red River and Assiniboine offered their staffs annual increases of 2.9 per cent and 2.5 per cent. That was before the provincial government announced its desire for a two-year wage freeze.
I didn't make those numbers up. They first appeared in our paper on May 14, they came from an MGEU staff member authorized to speak to the media, and I identified him by name and by job title in that story.
They have been published several times since, prior to this week, and they have never been challenged by the MGEU -- its president, Peter Olfert, is not shy when he doesn't like something in the paper -- have never been challenged by the rank and file at Red River and Assiniboine, and have never been challenged by the administrations of the two colleges.