Wage talks rile fractious faculty
U of M faculty association leaders resign amid bullying allegations
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/08/2021 (545 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Ahead of looming contract negotiations with the University of Manitoba, the president and vice-president of the school’s faculty association have submitted letters of resignation in which they allege workplace bullying.
On July 29, Darcy MacPherson and Brandon Trask — both of whom are faculty members at Robson Hall — quit as elected executives on the union that represents approximately 1,170 full-time academic staff at Manitoba’s largest post-secondary institute.
They left their roles at the U of M Faculty Association just under two months after officially taking office.
“I didn’t want to be a lightning rod for a degree of incivility that I found unacceptable,” said MacPherson, a professor of law who, prior to campaigning for president of UMFA, had served as a board representative for his faculty since 2017.
In their respective resignation letters, both men suggested their election signalled a shift in direction within the association and thus, they did not anticipate an easy term. They also wrote they did not expect to be intimidated.
One of the key disputes within the UMFA this year has been related to bargaining proposals.
Some members are in favour of lobbying the university to implement commonality across the salary grid, meaning a professor, librarian and instructor with the same experience level would be paid on the same scale.
MacPherson, Trask and others, however, support a bargaining approach that aims to seek pay bumps for all rather than restructure the system to make wages equitable across job titles.
The backdrop of the debate is the union’s ongoing fight against the Pallister government’s Public Services Sustainability Act — legislation that sought to freeze the pay of public-sector workers, and which a Manitoba judge threw out in 2020, although the province is now appealing that decision — and last year’s contentious wage dispute.
It was during a meeting MacPherson chaired July 23, which was held via Zoom, that he said a turning point occurred amid a heated discussion about the bargaining approach. Following a vote, re-vote, motion to table the vote, and an unsuccessful challenge to its tabling, MacPherson said he was called “incompetent” and a “f—ing saboteur” by colleagues.
Days later, amid another meeting that consisted of members expressing frustrations with his leadership, MacPherson said a motion raised to acknowledge and condemn the inappropriate comments made towards him was defeated.
In his union resignation letter, the professor said he experienced “abusive and personalized comments” before, during and after that meeting. He also claims his financial safety was threatened at one point, when a colleague suggested they wanted to raise the issue of removing a stipend paid to law faculty — which he said was “direct retaliation” for encouraging members to make their views known about bargaining proposals.
In response to a request for comment Monday, Trask directed a reporter to his resignation letter. The former UMFA vice-president went so far in his letter as to suggest some of the vitriol directed towards the two men, both of whom identify as persons living with disabilities, “appears ableist in nature.”
In his letter, Trask provided a number of recommendations to improve the organization. Among them: the development of a code of conduct and a renewed emphasis on solidarity rather than factionalism.
The association’s executive declined to comment Monday, saying UMFA must communicate with its membership before commenting publicly.
“What’s been happening in UMFA is primarily a conflict about what is the best way for the union to do its work, a conflict about vision and methods,” David Camfield, an associate professor of labour studies who also sits on UMFA’s board of representatives, wrote in an email to the Free Press.
Citing both his research into and experience with unions, Camfield said he is confident MacPherson and Trask were not the victims of a campaign of abuse. He said the July 23 meeting did not go well, “in part, because of inadequate chairing by MacPherson.”
“It’s plausible to see the timing of the resignations — just before the July 29 members’ meeting called to adopt the proposals for bargaining that hadn’t been adopted before the end of the meeting on July 23 — as timed to throw UMFA into disarray,” said Camfield.
Not long after MacPherson and Trask submitted their resignations, the membership voted to proceed with a common salary grid bargaining approach.
Negotiations on a new collective agreement between UMFA and the U of M, which officially got underway last week, are to continue in the coming weeks.
Full professors currently have the highest base salaries on the existing payment schedule, with tier 1 professionals making at least $105,000 annually. Full librarians in the same level earn a minimum of approximately $97,000, while senior instructors bring home around $75,000 every year.
Updated on Tuesday, August 10, 2021 6:16 AM CDT: Adds photo
Updated on Tuesday, August 10, 2021 12:03 PM CDT: Corrects bargaining timeline.