Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Winnipeg board must end practice

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The practice of passing on wage hikes awarded to one bargaining unit to all others within an organization may not be uncommon within a unionized workplace. But awarding managers who negotiate salary hikes the identical increases is so apparently a conflict that, as a regular practice, it defies comprehension.

Winnipeg School Division chairwoman Rita Hildahl says it would be unseemly to suggest the senior administrators in the bargaining process have anything but the pursuit of fairness and good management at heart. While a senior administrator may lead the negotiation, Ms. Hildahl notes, at least one trustee sits on the bargaining committee.

The difference is in influence. Every business or organization that bargains collective agreements needs managers involved to run the numbers and map out scenarios. But administrators who automatically receive the same hike negotiated should not lead the negotiations nor should they outweigh the other bargainers at the table. Trustee Mike Babinsky says the lead negotiator is the board's director of human resources, and two of three others at the table are in senior administration. Senior administrators, unlike other unions the board negotiates with, get identical wage increases to those awarded to the teachers' union.

The board approves the wage hikes, and ultimately carries the responsibility for that. But it must know the advice and direction during contract negotiations is free from self-interest and the standard practice of merely passing on identical wage hikes defeats that possibility with senior administrators.

The provincial government in 2010 announced it was expecting all publicly paid workers to take wage freezes, but teachers came out with two per cent a year. Now property owners, who pay a school board levy that helps fund their budgets, have some insight into the process.

Negotiators should be rewarded for driving an affordable, fair bargain and the Winnipeg board cannot assure taxpayers and parents this is the case. The board must halt this practice and negotiate wage settlements with administrators separately. Or better yet, hire an independent, third party to lead the bargaining.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 4, 2013 A8

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