Some U of M profs return to work Picket lines remain strong, says union

Some faculty members at the University of Manitoba who went on strike earlier this month have ditched the picket lines and returned to work amid an ongoing stalemate in negotiations.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/11/2021 (264 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Some faculty members at the University of Manitoba who went on strike earlier this month have ditched the picket lines and returned to work amid an ongoing stalemate in negotiations.

“I have heard from a lot of students who are wondering, ‘Is the strike over? Are classes back?’” said Brendan Scott, president of the undergraduate students union, which represents more than 26,000 students at the Winnipeg-based school.

Scott said many classes that were put on hold Nov. 2, when hundreds of instructors went on strike in protest of wages and related concerns about recruitment and retention, have resumed after reading week.

Liv Valmestad joined a handful of members of the University of Manitoba Faculty Association to picket in front of the Manitoba Legislative Building on Wednesday. (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)

There were no courses, tests or assignment due dates at the university between Nov. 8 and 12.

Scott’s best guess is some professors returned after that period because they missed teaching and felt job action was greatly interfering with their courses.

With a deal yet to be finalized, the final instructional day for courses that have been interrupted by the strike has already been extended until at least Dec. 23. Exams for these classes have also been pushed back until after students return from a winter break in early 2022.

Strike captain Michael Minor leads a group of UMFA members in a song about solidarity in front of the legislative building on Wednesday. (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)

Approximately 2,340 courses, including labs, tutorials, studios and seminars, continue to take place between U of M’s virtual and in-person campuses. Some of these courses are taught by members of the faculty association currently on strike; others are taught by contract academics.

Combined, U of M has around 2,200 teaching staff. The faculty association, which has a total membership of more than 1,200, represents professors, instructors and librarians.

The university did not provide details Wednesday on either the total number of academics on strike or total courses that have been disrupted.

UMFA members, students and supporters rally at the University of Manitoba on Nov. 5. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Arts and science courses have been primarily disrupted in recent weeks, said Scott, adding many business, engineering and law classes are carrying on as usual.

Few, if any, members of the law faculty are on strike — in part, because of tensions related to the union’s bargaining approach.

Before contract talks got underway with the U of M in the summertime, there was a dispute within the union about its wage proposal. Fewer than two weeks after taking on executive positions, the former president and vice-president of the faculty association, both of whom work at Robson Hall, quit their positions. Both men cited workplace bullying.

Sean Buchanan, an assistant professor of business administration, acknowledged Wednesday he is one of few educators at the Asper School of Business on the picket lines.

“Because we’re training managers, there’s just this sort of idea that we’re managers, too, even though we’re not — we’re academics,” said Buchanan, who indicated he is taking job action because he worries the school will keep losing talented staff if it does not address its low salaries in comparison to other research schools in Canada.

Asked about the growing number of members returning to work as the strike continues, the union provided a generic statement that touted the record number of faculty members who have been participating in overall job action in 2021.

There have been virtual pickets, in addition to protests outside the U of M campuses and the Manitoba legislature.

Premier responds to calls to meet with striking faculty

Academics on strike at the University of Manitoba have been repeatedly requesting meetings with the newly appointed premier and other provincial officials to discuss a wage mandate.

The faculty association claims professor, instructor and librarian wages have remained stagnant over the last five years because of government interference.

Academics on strike at the University of Manitoba have been repeatedly requesting meetings with the newly appointed premier and other provincial officials to discuss a wage mandate.

The faculty association claims professor, instructor and librarian wages have remained stagnant over the last five years because of government interference.

Since before a strike began, the union has been calling on the province to withdraw the mandate it gave its employer. The province says overarching mandates are within its scope as a key funder of public education and steward of public funds.

Premier Heather Stefanson addressed the situation during a news conference Wednesday.

When asked why she is committed to listening to Manitobans but won’t sit down and listen to UMFA members who’ve been picketing outside the legislature and in her constituency, Stefanson noted the union has been saying it does not want the province to interfere in bargaining.

“I think that would be inappropriate at this stage,” she said. “I think we need to allow them to have those discussions with the employer. That’s the appropriate way to handle this process.”

“Our picket lines have remained stable and strong over the last three weeks and have been bolstered by student and community support,” said Orvie Dingwall, president of the faculty association.

“We would all rather be teaching students and we encourage the administration to accept our reasonable offer that prioritizes student learning and faculty working conditions.”

The U of M recently tabled a three-year deal that includes general salary hikes each year, a minimum of increase of seven per cent to floors and ceilings for nearly all ranks, and the downsizing of 15 annual performance wage increases to 12.

Despite ongoing disruptions, which Scott said have affected the vast majority of students in one way or another, the undergraduate students union continues to back professors’ calls for higher wages.

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh
Reporter

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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