U of M students want guarantee in wake of last year’s strike, new wage control bill


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University of Manitoba students are demanding a money-back guarantee against a repeat of last year's three-week strike.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 05/07/2017 (2159 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

University of Manitoba students are demanding a money-back guarantee against a repeat of last year’s three-week strike.

The U of M Students Union said Wednesday it wants a new collective bargaining agreement between the university and its faculty association reached by Sept. 19 – the day before students can withdraw with a full refund of fees and without academic penalty.

“We are the most important stakeholder in the process,” UMSU president Tanjit Nagra said in an interview Wednesday. “Students do not want uncertainty in their education.”

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS UMSU president Tanjit Nagra says students do not want uncertainty in their education.

Nagra said students want a guarantee from the university that if there’s no deal by the UMSU deadline, that the university guarantee a full refund and academic amnesty to any student who requests them after that date – regardless whether there’s another strike.

This round of bargaining is considerably complicated by Premier Brian Pallister’s wage control Bill 28 – the university said the bill is in effect, the union is challenging it in court.

The UMSU president said some students told her this past school year, had they known there’d be a three-week strike in November that pushed back the academic calendar and affected many students’ plans, they would have gone to the University of Winnipeg or elsewhere.

While some Canadian university student groups have demanded refunds after faculty strikes, UMSU’s demand appears to be the first put forward while bargaining is under way. “I haven’t seen any student union in the past take this step,” she said.

UMFA was sympathetic Wednesday, but the university avoided addressing the demand directly. Instead, public affairs executive director John Danakas said the university is doing everything it can to reach a speedy settlement.

While it is not unheard of for the U of M to have a deal in place by mid-September, it would be unusual. The previous deal ended March 31.

Bill 28 has been passed by the Tory government but not proclaimed. UMFA is among 25 unions which Tuesday filed a court challenge against the bill’s constitutionality, and also sought an injunction to prevent the bill’s proclamation.

Bill 28 dictates that in public sector unions’ collective bargaining agreements that take effect after March 20, 2017, that new benefits and wages do not exceed zero in the first and second year, 0.75 per cent in the third, and 1.0 per cent in the fourth.

The government is already crediting UMFA with the first year of the required two-year wage freezes in the one-year 2016-2017 agreement reached after the strike.

But as yet another complication, UMFA awaits the Manitoba Labour Board’s ruling on an unfair labour practice charge. The Pallister government ordered the university last fall to take a one-year wage freeze, and further ordered the U of M not to disclose that information to the union during bargaining.

“The strike had a huge impact on students,” Danakas said. “The university is very interested in reaching an agreement with the faculty association in a timely fashion,” and has been asking for expedted bargaining since last January, he said.

“Monetary matters appear to be off the table by Bill 28,” Danakas said. “Non-monetary matters were discussed and resolved in 2016.”

Far from it, UMFA president Prof. Janet Morrill said Wednesday.

UMFA and the public sector labour movement clearly believe that Bill 28 is unconstitutional and should not apply to bargaining, she said.

As for working conditions, which ended up being the main elements of the one-year deal, “there are still important issues to be talked about. The university is a pretty complex environment,” Morrill said.

“The areas where we were disappointed, we didn’t get workload provisions for the librarians, and we didn’t get job security for the librarians and instructors,” she said.

“We are sympathetic with the nervousness students have – we certainly hope we’ll be able to avoid a strike this time,” Morrill said. “It seems like a reasonable request, but it would be the university’s decision.”

UMFA will meet with its membership sometime in July to hear proposals for bargaining priorities, and is ready to meet the university to bargain in August.

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