University of Manitoba Faculty Association members targeted Premier Heather Stefanson's Tuxedo constituency office with pickets Monday morning.

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This article was published 8/11/2021 (199 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

University of Manitoba Faculty Association members targeted Premier Heather Stefanson's Tuxedo constituency office with pickets Monday morning.

The union plans to have other Progressive Conservative caucus members' offices in its crosshairs later this week.

"We have multiple plans," Joe Curnow, who teaches in the faculty of education, said outside of Stefanson's office Monday morning.

An estimated 60 UMFA members and 20 students planned to stage a sit-in but when they arrived, the doors were locked and the office appeared unoccupied.

Union members planned to distribute leaflets Monday in the west Winnipeg neighbourhood, then expand efforts later in the week with pickets in other PC constituencies.

The union, representing 1,200 U of M professors, instructors and librarians, has been on strike since Nov. 2. It blames the provincial government for imposing a wage freeze on the university, which is near the bottom of the pay scale for faculty across Canada.

Curnow warned of a "brain drain" from Manitoba, as professors and researchers leave for greener pastures and better pay elsewhere.

The union says it has tried since September to connect with Stefanson, who has promised to listen to Manitobans. After repeated calls, emails and pickets outside the legislature failed to get her attention, UMFA said it went to her constituency office.

"There will be a picket here all day with members and students to make sure that that it's visible, and that constituents know that Stefanson could end the strike if she pulled the mandate and that she has refused to meet with us," said Curnow.

"Clearly, she is not taking the strike seriously and she needs to pull the mandate so we can get back to class, which is where everyone wants to be."

On social media Monday morning, Stefanson tweeted about meeting in Brandon with post-secondary school presidents in that western city, as well as Brandon police and chamber of commerce.

If there's no response from the premier, UMFA plans to amplify its message and is take it to other government members' constituencies this week.

"I think the problem is not just with her, it's the PC caucus as a whole," said Curnow. "We've only had two members willing to meet with constituents, so we will be going to see a lot of them this week to make sure that they know that that this is a hugely important issue to their constituents — that the government interference in our bargaining is a big problem for students.

"It is a big problem for faculty. It is a big problem for recruitment and retention in this province and the quality of education."

Curnow wouldn't identify the caucus members who've been targeted in the days ahead.

A statement from Stefanson's press secretary Monday noted it's reading week with no scheduled classes and "no one wants further disruption to students and families already dealing with the pandemic."

"Government is not the employer, and the university and UMFA are still in negotiations, through mediation, to explore resolution. Full details on the university’s latest offer to increase salaries an average of 9.5 per cent over two years are publicly available on its dedicated bargaining website," the statement said.

"It’s not clear whether the full details of UMFA’s demands have been made public, but we urge both sides to continue their efforts to find common ground."

The University of Manitoba, meanwhile, says UMFA is asking for salary increases that amount to an average increase of 16.4 per cent in new money per member over three years.

The union's proposal contains general increases of two per cent in the first two years and 2.5 per cent in the third year, plus across-the-board salary increases to all UMFA members that cost an additional two per cent, 1.4 per cent and 0.75 per cent, respectively, in each year of the deal, the U of M said in a recent statement.

The university said revisions to its pay grids over and above monetary items equate to an average increase of 16.4 per cent — nearly 10 per cent more than the 6.5 per cent proposed increase that's been reported.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.