Fess up and pay up, U of M faculty tells province

Tories mull appeal of $19-M award

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The Tory government has 30 days to appeal a court ruling that awarded more than $19.3 million to the University of Manitoba Faculty Association to acknowledge the financial loss academics suffered when the government illegally interfered in 2016 salary negotiations.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/02/2022 (349 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Tory government has 30 days to appeal a court ruling that awarded more than $19.3 million to the University of Manitoba Faculty Association to acknowledge the financial loss academics suffered when the government illegally interfered in 2016 salary negotiations.

David Camfield, an associate professor of labour studies at Manitoba’s largest university, said he expects the province to reject the order.

“Earlier, the PC government did not challenge the court’s ruling that it unlawfully interfered with UMFA’s bargaining with the (U of M) administration in 2016 but reserved the right to appeal the damages awarded,” Camfield said in an email Thursday.

MAGGIE MACINTOSH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Orvie Dingwall, president of the University of Manitoba Faculty Association, pickets outside the school last November. “We hope that they now just acknowledge that what they did was illegal and that there should be implications when you break the law” said Dingwall of Wednesday’s ruling.

The U of M educator added, “I expect the government will appeal, arguing that it shouldn’t have to pay so much money for having violated charter-protected rights.”

In September 2016, the faculty association was considering a substantial salary hike proposal from U of M when the government learned about it and privately directed the administration to withdraw the offer and conclude a one-year agreement with wage freezes.

A sudden stalemate prompted UMFA — whose approximately 1,200 professors, instructors and librarians were in the dark about the province’s directive — to go on a 21-day strike, before agreeing to wage freezes.

The province unveiled the controversial and now-defunct Public Services Sustainability Act (Bill 28), what became known as wage-freeze legislation, several months later.

“What occurred was a substantial and surreptitious insertion by Manitoba into the ongoing, nine-month good faith collective bargaining process which, in accordance with the evidence, was likely headed to resolution without strike action,” wrote Queen’s Bench Justice Joan McKelvey, in a ruling delivered on Wednesday.

McKelvey concluded the government violated charter rights and damaged the relationship between UMFA and its employer.

The latest ruling on damages, which reinforces two earlier court rulings, states the province must pay UMFA members $15 million to address lost wages due to bargaining interference and $1.6 million for earnings lost amid picketing, in addition to $2.7 million to the union for strike-related expenses.

The government has been ordered to pay interest once the appeal period is up.

“Out of respect for the court’s process, our response will be limited, apart from noting that we will be thoroughly reviewing the decision and taking legal advice on appeal considerations,” a provincial spokesperson wrote in an email Thursday.

The U of M declined to comment on the ruling.

Faculty association president Orvie Dingwall called the ruling “bittersweet” during an interview Thursday.

“My preference, and the preference of our members, is that the government wouldn’t have interfered in the first place and would have respected the independence of the university and also, our charter right to free association or free and fair collective bargaining,” Dingwall said.

The union leader noted that UMFA has been in legal limbo for nearly six years, as a result of the government’s interference — and that situation may continue, should the government, under the new premier, Heather Stefanson, appeal the ruling.

“We hope that they now just acknowledge that what they did was illegal and that there should be implications when you break the law,” she added.

UMFA members affected by the 2016 strike have each received $2,000 from the U of M, after the Manitoba Labour Board ordered the school to be accountable for engaging in an unfair labour practice.

In May 2018, U of M administration released a statement saying the school originally thought it was acting in the best interests of both faculty and the institution by following the provincial directive because it was “continuing the dialogue with government.”

“We understand now that that decision was wrong, and for that we apologize to UMFA and UMFA members,” states the nearly four-year-old letter.

The government will have to pay up for its mistakes, “one way or another,” said Janis Thiessen, a professor at the University of Winnipeg who researches the history of Manitoba business, labour and food.

“For years, they have just postponed the inevitable,” said Thiessen, in reference to legal disputes over Bill 28, which was scrapped in November, dating back to its introduction in March 2017.

“Regrettably, for many Manitobans who have been affected by this and the many others who are indirectly affected by it, rather than having these (union salary) payments spread out over time, they are now coming due all at once and at a very inconvenient time in history, with not only the pandemic but the past year, with record inflation.”

— with files from Dean Pritchard and Carol Sanders

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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