Back to class after balloting U of M faculty association members ratify agreement in vote

Interrupted courses and research at the University of Manitoba will resume Tuesday after academics approved a deal ending a 35-day strike.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/12/2021 (542 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Interrupted courses and research at the University of Manitoba will resume Tuesday after academics approved a deal ending a 35-day strike.

The university and its faculty association reached a preliminary agreement on the weekend that will see hundreds of employees return to work after more than a month of disruptions.

The union’s executive council had unanimously recommended that its members cast ballots in favour of the deal during a secret e-ballot late Monday.

Supporters of the strike held a rally in front of the U of M’s administrative building last week. (Tyler Searle / Winnipeg Free Press files)

The association said Tuesday morning that there were 881 votes in favour of the deal and 88 against, with 969 out of 1,264 members casting ballots.

“What’s included in this agreement is definitely a positive next step to move us forward to improving recruitment and retention. Five years of wage freezes has really stalled us and we’ve fallen behind,” said union president Orvie Dingwall, who represents around 1,200 professors, instructors and librarians.

According to a mass union email, the agreement includes deferring wage negotiation to binding arbitration so that a neutral third-party can determine general scale increases for 2021-22, 2022-23, and 2023-24.

Both sides would agree on an arbitrator, who will ignore government mandates and be guided by “reasonable advancement toward” the 25th percentile in the U15 (Group of Canadian Research Universities), per the email.

Other key features of the deal that are not subject to arbitration include: various adjustments to the salary table; the creation of a committee that will study technology in teaching at U of M; and the addition of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to the list of UMFA holidays.

If a deal was not ratified, the strike could have continued until the end of this month, when it would have ended as arbitration automatically began under provincial labour laws.

Hundreds of faculty members stopped teaching and checking emails when the job action began on Nov. 2. Almost six in 10 courses — upwards of 3,600 lectures, labs and other sections — remain affected by the strike.

U of M’s academic calendar has been adjusted four times to address implications on instruction. The latest iteration means the end of the fall term will be sandwiched between the holiday break, there will be a 72-hour-long exam period, and the winter reading week is now condensed into a single day.

“We kind of want to strike — as students — if we’re not getting a reading week. That’s just ridiculous,” said Owen Dunnigan, a fourth-year fine arts student.

The 22-year-old said Monday, before the vote, that he had mixed feelings about the prospect of classes resuming this week. On one hand, Dunnigan he was relieved the strike could come to an end. On the other hand, he said there was “the frustration of feeling like a pawn.”

“It’s just frustrating, feeling like I’m investing in the school instead of being a student because they’re taking my money while saying they don’t have any money,” he added.

Being an international student from Minnesota, Dunnigan made travel plans to return home this weekend, based on the original school calendar. He will likely have to participate in remote learning in some form, without access to studio materials, to finish the term.

A striker marches outside the legislature. (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press files)

In a message on the university’s website, president and vice-chancellor Michael Benarroch acknowledged the strike “has been especially hard” on students.

“As we resume classes and interrupted research, we are committed to providing you with the support you need during this transition,” wrote Benarroch.

“I know this strike has impacted you personally and affected your perceptions of our institution. We are committed to providing a rapid transition back to class so that you can successfully complete the academic year.”

The labour dispute can be traced back to years of stagnant salaries, aside from annual performance increases, because of the Progressive Conservative government’s now-defunct public sector wage freeze legislation.

Professors have voiced concerns about how U of M’s low salary scale in comparison with other established research universities is affecting staffing.

The U of M had indicated its goal was to reach an agreement that addresses recruitment and retention issues while supporting quality education and sustainability.

A provincial wage mandate, which the union categorizes as interference, has also caused tension between the parties. The government has insisted, however, that such a mandate is standard practice for a steward of public funds.

— with files from Adam Treusch

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh

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.


Updated on Monday, December 6, 2021 8:19 AM CST: Adds U of M statement

Updated on Monday, December 6, 2021 9:16 AM CST: Corrects headline

Updated on Monday, December 6, 2021 6:53 PM CST: Final write-thru with extra info, photos, new formatting

Updated on Tuesday, December 7, 2021 6:50 AM CST: Updates story following voting results

Updated on Tuesday, December 7, 2021 7:02 AM CST: Updates photo cutline

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