The Manitoba Labour Board has ruled that the University of Manitoba is guilty of unfair labour practices during its bargaining with the faculty association in 2016.
The board has ordered the university to pay each affected member of UMFA a sum not exceeding $2,000, a $2.4 million overall penalty, and to apologize to the union and its members in writing.
The labour board found the university had bargained in bad faith by obeying an order from the provincial government not to tell the union during bargaining that the Progressive Conservative had imposed a one-year wage freeze.
"The board concluded that the employer failed to comply with the requirement of unsolicited disclosure and that the employer's conduct went far beyond hard bargaining, and violated the Act," the labour board wrote in its 88-page decision.
The university said on its website Wednesday it may appeal that decision.
"They unfairly hid important information from us until the last possible minute," UMFA president Janet Morrill told a news conference Wednesday morning. "We will continue to protest the government's infringement on collective bargaining rights."
"The University of Manitoba broke the law at the direction of the Pallister government," Manitoba Federation of Labour president Kevin Rebeck declared.
The labour board rejected the university's argument that it kept quiet while trying to persuade the provincial government not to impose a freeze on the faculty.
However, the board ruled against the union's other claims, most crucially that even though the university bargained in bad faith, the unfair labour practice did not cause the three-week UMFA strike in November of 2016.
The board refused to compensate UMFA members for lost wages and what they contended was unpaid work performed to help students catch up after the strike. The board said UMFA was aware of the freeze before striking for improved working conditions.
Nowhere in its decision did the labour board say the government did not have the right to order a freeze during bargaining, and to keep that freeze secret.
Nor did it order the university's previous offer of a seven per cent increase over four years be put back on the table. U of M president David Barnard had previously cautioned the university's board of governors that scenario could have cost $9.4 million.
The university testified last summer before the board that the government made open and implied threats about consequences to not obeying its order to withhold the freeze from the union, including the withholding of operating grants and appointing the majority of the board of governors to further impose other consequences.
The labour board found it was "theoretically possible" for the university to disobey the government's orders, but doing so could result in "potentially severe consequences."
The U of M would not speculate Wednesday where it would be able to find $2.4 million in its budget.
"The university is still reviewing the decision and considering appropriate next steps," said executive director of public affairs John Danakas.
The government used "sneaky and underhanded" tactics to interfere with collective bargaining months before making public its wage controls and its plan for "gutting the public service," Rebeck said.
Morrill rejected the labour board's conclusion the university's actions did not cause the strike.
"We lost the ability to adjust our position. What creates a problem is where you have lopsided information," said Morrill, adding UMFA would have bargained differently had it known about the freeze.
NDP leader Wab Kinew accused Pallister of choosing to make an example of the faculty.
"It's clear the premier caused the strike at U of M — tens of thousands of students had their lives disrupted and were stressed out," Kinew told reporters.
The Tories have since passed but not proclaimed Bill 28, which limits public-sector unions in their next collective bargaining agreements to zero in wages and benefits the first two years, 0.75 per cent in the third, and 1.0 per cent in the fourth.
The province has agreed to count the 2016-2017 freeze year as UMFA's first year under Bill 28. UMFA has agreed to a four-year deal under Bill 28, effective April 1, 2017, so only three years are covered by the wage freeze.
UMFA intends to bargain in that fourth year of the deal for a catch-up on frozen wages, and signed the collective agreement with the caveat that the deal is null and void if the courts throw out Bill 28.
The faculty union is part of a 25-union coalition challenging Bill 28 in court, where it is seeking an injunction at a May 29 hearing.
"This clearly shows the government had a mandate and a vision about interference with collective bargaining," Rebeck said, adding he was uncertain how the labour board's ruling might affect the upcoming hearing.
Finance Minister Cameron Friesen pointed out that the government was not a party in the MLB hearing.
"The Labour Board has ruled that the strike occurred due to an impasse over governance and related issues, and had nothing to do with the government bargaining mandate. In fact, government is not a party before the Labour Board and the board has made no orders against government in its ruling," Friesen said.
"It’s well known that public sector labour costs in Manitoba comprise a very significant portion of government expenditures. Manitobans elected our government to fix the province’s finances while protecting the services we all depend upon. This requires an all hands on deck approach and labour is an essential part of it," he said.
"Governments provide bargaining mandates to public sector employers to establish broad parameters. We have given a clear mandate so there can be negotiations in good faith. Manitobans can be assured that the bargaining process is alive and well," said Friesen. "We’ll continue to defend the interests of all Manitobans."
Nick Martin is the bearded guy we keep hidden away at the back of the newsroom. He is now in his fourth decade working in daily newspapers.
Updated on Wednesday, January 31, 2018 at 6:06 PM CST: Updates with response from Finance Minister Cameron Friesen
February 1, 2018 at 10:16 AM: edits cutline