U of M professors ratify 4-year deal
Faculty association hoping courts allow wage talks to reopen
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/09/2017 (2087 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Professors at the University of Manitoba have ratified a new four-year collective agreement with the university, but are betting the courts will let them go back to the bargaining table to reopen wage talks if government wage controls are declared unconstitutional.
The U of M Faculty Association (UMFA) accepted the new deal Friday — the first public-sector collective-bargaining agreement reached under Premier Brian Pallister’s Bill 28.
Professors, librarians and instructors acknowledged on their ballots they reached the deal under duress, that it was “not freely bargained” and they expect to revisit the wages as part of the package if a labour coalition legal challenge by 25 unions gets the bill declared unconstitutional.
Manitoba Federation of Labour president Kevin Rebeck predicted Friday other public sector unions will put in the same conditions before their members when they vote on their next collective bargaining agreement.
Already, 30,000 health-care workers in a variety of bargaining units have been without a deal since March 31.
“I can’t say for certain what any affiliate will do, but imagine that if employers are limiting bargaining based on Bill 28 — which we believe to be unconstitutional and unfair — that others may do something similar,” Rebeck said.
Tracey Epp, a labour lawyer with Pitblado LLP, said Friday acceptance of a tentative deal would generally be considered binding, unless employees notified the employer acceptance was conditional and the employer agreed.
Still, the courts may eventually rule further bargaining must occur, even though by then years may have passed, Epp said.
However, the U of M considers the collective bargaining agreement binding, director of strategic communications and client relations Lindsey Stewart Glor said.
“I don’t know why we would think otherwise,” Glor said. “The tentative collective agreement doesn’t have that (conditional) wording in it.
“We didn’t see their ballot,” and the union did not ask the university to agree to the ratification results being conditional, she said.
The Tories have passed Bill 28, but have not proclaimed it.
Bill 28 imposes no wage increases or benefit improvements beyond zero in the first two years, 0.75 per cent in the third year and one per cent in the fourth year on the next collective-bargaining agreement reached by about 120,000 public-sector workers.
The U of M deal is significant not only because it is the first public-sector collective-bargaining agreement reached under Bill 28, but it also extends for a year beyond the terms of the bill.
Even before introducing Bill 28 in the legislature, the provincial government had ordered a one-year wage freeze at the university for 2016-17 and has agreed the freeze year would count as the first year under Bill 28, a condition that does not apply to any other public-sector workers in Manitoba.
UMFA’s president, Prof. Janet Morrill, has said the two sides agreed on the first three years of the deal at zero, 0.75 and one per cent, retroactive to April 1, 2017.
“The fourth year, we have a salary reopener. We’ll start negotiations at that time (for the fourth year) in August of 2020,” she said. UMFA intends to bargain in 2020 for catch-up salary lost during the imposition of Bill 28 if the courts don’t rule in the union’s favour.
Last November, UMFA members went on strike to improve working conditions after the provincial government imposed the one-year wage freeze.
The four-year agreement includes increased job security for librarians and instructors, workload protection for librarians, and minimum staff complements that cannot be reduced, unless the university can prove financial exigency, Morrill said.
Epp said the courts are unlikely to throw out a collective agreement altogether, but “some aspects may change once the constitutional challenge is heard and winds its way through the courts.”
“Unfortunately, that may take years and that is likely why they have this tentative agreement,” she said.
“The reference to ‘duress,’ in my view, is UMFA’s way of encouraging its members to vote yes, notwithstanding that people may not like the percentages contained in the act. The saving grace for UMFA is that if the unions are successful, the court may award a remedy that includes more money or more likely an order that the employer goes back to the bargaining table and bargains freely rather than being hampered by the act.
“I have encountered situations that a similar, but not the same. For instance, many collective agreements are negotiated when the employer does not know about funding.
“I have agreements where employees are paid a certain amount, but there is an agreement that if the employer can get more funding, the increased funding will be passed along to the employees.”
Updated on Monday, September 11, 2017 7:43 AM CDT: Adds photo