Money not key issue in faculty strike: U of M union


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Striking University of Manitoba professors would consider accepting a one-year wage freeze if the university gives significant ground on governance and workload issues.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/11/2016 (2153 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Striking University of Manitoba professors would consider accepting a one-year wage freeze if the university gives significant ground on governance and workload issues.

Shortly after picket lines went up this morning, U of M Faculty Association president Prof. Mark Hudson said money is not the key issue for the union.

When the university told the union in mediation sessions last week that the provincial government has issued an edict for public-sector collective agreements to be extended a year with a wage freeze, UMFA responded, “Let’s see what we can get in governance,” Hudson said, adding the U of M wouldn’t move far enough.

Four days of mediation ended in an impasse Sunday evening. Conciliation begins Wednesday.

Picket lines went up at 7 a.m. and will continue until 5 p.m. each weekday as long as the strike lasts.

UMFA members, especially instructors, want protection from arbitrarily-increased workloads, Hudson said. “We’re looking for some guarantee that would at least stop.” he said.

Decisions on promotions and tenure need to be made after a fair and accurate evaluation, he said.

“We’ve been clear since mediation what we’ve been trying to push for,” Hudson said. 

The university countered Tuesday that it offered movement on UMFA’s issues on Sept. 13, and further improved that offer Monday.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS University of Manitoba Faculty Association members on the picket line at the Pembina Highway entrance to the campus Tuesday morning.

Hudson acknowledged that it is difficult to explain to lay people how academics use a narrow set of “performance metrics” to determine a professor’s future. Careers must not be determined just on how many research dollars a professor attracts.

“It needs to go into the quality of research,” he said.

As an example, promotion decisions are heavily weighted on they number of citations received — how often a professor gets footnoted in someone else’s work, he said.

The faculty strike is the third for the U of M. UMFA went on strike in 1995 and 2001, and several other deals were reached as the clock ticked down to strike deadlines.

Traffic near the U of M was heavier than normal before 7 a.m. as drivers attempted to enter the campus before the picket lines went up.

Picket captain Prof. Jim Hare, a biological scientist, laid down the rules: “We are here to inform the public. We may not harass, we may not intimidate, we may not threaten. Wave to people, smile nicely, be safe.”

Two security vans sat nearby, while the picketers had their own video camera ready to roll.

Many drivers honked in support. But there were plenty of others. One man in a dark SUV drove weaving through the lines, narrowly missing one woman, flooring it onto campus — but not before the strikers got his plate number.

Another man in a pickup truck came within inches of picketers, while pointing his cellphone out the window: “All I want to do is get to work at SmartPark and pay my taxes!” he shouted.

It is not yet clear how many UMFA members crossed picket lines. The university is posting and updating information on classes that will be held as scheduled here.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS The University of Manitoba Faculty Association set up a picket line to the campus's Pembina Highway entrance at 7 a.m. Tuesday.

Hudson blamed the university for not moving far enough during mediation, but U of M vice-president external John Kearsey similarly blamed the union for rejecting a counter-offer tabled by the university Monday. Kearsey said the university made improvements to its offer on workload and performance assessment.

Talks hit a major snag when the university told the union last Thursday the provincial government had ordered it to extend the current contract for one year with no pay increase. UMFA says the university then withdrew its salary offer, but U of M communications director John Danakas said today that there has been no salary offer on the table since the union turned down a four-year deal in September.

Kearsey said the university first learned about the province’s wage-freeze edict Oct. 6, when provincial bureaucrats told the U of M to extend the collective agreement. There has been no political contact about the directive, Kearsey said.

“It was clear to us there was an expectation of a one-year pause,” Kearsey said. “They have a mandate to clean up the finances of the province. We want to be part of that — we’re big players in the city.”

Kearsey said provincial governments across Canada let universities know the financial mandates within which they’re working when they bargain with employees.

“This is not unusual that the province has discussions about the mandate with us,” he said.

The university was disappointed the mandate came so late during bargaining, he said, but Kearsey emphasized the Pallister government has “definitely” not intervened in bargaining.

The university had offered a seven per cent increase over four years; for one-third of the members still eligible for incremental raises, the package would total 17.5 per cent over four years.

UMFA sought a 6.9 per cent overall increase for one year.

In the deal that expired March 31, assistant professors were paid from $71,777 to $107,666, associate professors from $84,251 to $126,376, and professors from $103,451 to $155,777.

Instructors and librarians are part of the bargaining unit.

The university remains open, and says it will not write off the academic year under any circumstance.

Unless Bisons head coaches — who are UMFA members — cross the picket line, assistants will take over.

Full details of how campus activities will be handled are available here.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS A student walks past the U of M Administration Building Monday evening as a strike deadline of midnight looms.

Updated on Tuesday, November 1, 2016 11:52 AM CDT: Updates image.

Updated on Tuesday, November 1, 2016 1:04 PM CDT: writethrough

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