There are piles of homework for both students and professors at the University of Manitoba, following a record-long academic strike on a Winnipeg campus.

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This article was published 7/12/2021 (210 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There are piles of homework for both students and professors at the University of Manitoba, following a record-long academic strike on a Winnipeg campus.

Members of the faculty association, which represents upwards of 1,260 professors, instructors and librarians, voted resoundingly in favour of accepting a tentative agreement with the university late Monday.

Approximately 60 per cent of courses, including labs, tutorials and other sections, were impacted by the work stoppage that spanned from Nov. 2 until Dec. 6.

"The fact that it lasted five weeks rather than three weeks (the approximate length of UMFA’s respective 1995 and 2016 strikes) means… the emotional impact on people and the way that it’s changed peoples’ thinking is just that much deeper," said David Camfield, an associate professor of labour studies at the U of M.

One likely outcome is UMFA members will feel empowered to be more assertive, active participants in collegial structures, Camfield said. 

The 35-day walkout is the runner-up for the longest of its kind in Manitoba’s university history, second only to a 45-day faculty protest at Brandon University in 2011.

The key issues of the strike were recruitment and retention, owing to salaries that have been stagnant except for performance-based raises, over the last five years.

The job action resulted in a new deal — which the union said was approved by 91 per cent of the 969 members who participated in a secret e-ballot — that addresses vacation scheduling and teaching method autonomy. It also includes significant pay grid gains for instructors, who previously earned less than their counterparts with professorial rank.

Overall wage increases are being referred to binding arbitration with a neutral third party both the employer and union will agree upon. The arbitrator will not be subject to a provincial wage mandate, which has been a key point of contention throughout the labour dispute.

The ruling will inevitably affect upcoming negotiations at the University of Winnipeg and other post-secondary institutes.

"This is taking us a new way forward. Our members have really defended the independence of the university by standing up against government interference," said UMFA president Orvie Dingwall, adding instructors’ immediate focus is on supporting students as they finish the term.

A turning point occurred in late November, when the university accepted a mediator recommendation to move forward with arbitration. The union declined the offer because it wanted to conclude articles related to working conditions before taking the step.

In an interview, university president Michael Benarroch said the entire U of M community is grateful the strike is over.

There was "some flexibility" in a typical provincial mandate that was handed to the university, he said.

Meantime, in a statement Tuesday, Advanced Education Minister Wayne Ewasko said there has been "much misinformation" throughout the strike, and noted the mediator’s report did not conclude an impasse was a product of a "restrictive government mandate or employer intransigence."

Ewasko said the province previously called on both parties to take their differences to arbitration so he is pleased they have decided to take the step.

Third-year student Gabrielle Oprea said the strike has changed perceptions about U of M administration and as a result, some of her peers are questioning whether they should pursue grad school elsewhere.

"It’s been long overdue for the strike to end due to a fair contract finally being negotiated," said the 23-year-old, who is enrolled in labour studies.

When asked about how U of M plans to rebuild students’ trust, Benarroch said: "We have to commit to do better — to look at our bargaining process and to do better in the future."

"We need to build on what was successful. What I saw in the last week was real communication taking place across the table," he added.

The academic calendar has shifted four times to accommodate disruptions; the present iteration condenses both the upcoming exam period and winter reading week.

Student leaders are advocating for a compassionate grading scale to address the stresses linked to the strike, said Jaron Rykiss, a director on the undergraduate students union board.

Rykiss wants students to feel supported as they navigate a delayed fall term. He said the prospect of returning to a physical campus in the new year to be part of "the community that we’ve all been longing for" is what is keeping him going.

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.