Academics at the University of Manitoba have handed their union a strong mandate to take strike action amid contentious wage negotiations with their employer.
Union president Orvie Dingwall indicated Tuesday the association has broken two internal records, for both membership turnout during a strike vote and the percentage of people who cast a ballot in favour of strike action.
Of the 1,092 employees — 86 per cent of the union’s eligible voting members — who participated in the vote held Saturday through Monday, 85 per cent indicated they are in favour of going on strike.
"It’s a clear call to administration to exercise its autonomy from the government," said Dingwall, who represents professors, instructors and academic librarians at Manitoba’s largest post-secondary institute.
In recent weeks, the union has voiced concerns about the province providing U of M with another mandate regarding staff wage increases.
While the provincial government suggests such mandates are ordinary, citing its role as a steward of public funds, the union claims the move amounts to interference.
In 2016, months into bargaining talks, the province secretly provided the U of M with salary mandates in its negotiations with the faculty association and then threatened "financial consequences" if the Winnipeg-based school did not follow through with the terms.
Last week, a panel of Manitoba Court of Appeal judges upheld a 2020 ruling that concluded the province’s behaviour five years ago had violated academics’ rights to freedom of association.
Dingwall said the union is working with its legal team to figure out next steps regarding the recent ruling. As for current negotiations, she said the union knows U of M has enough funds to come to the table and address the fact staff salaries have fallen behind.
She added employees recognize the pressure that calling a strike vote puts on students, but indicated the protection of quality education is at the heart of the call for compensation.
Several academics have spoken up this month about their concerns regarding recruitment and retention in faculties ranging from nursing to computer science at the university, owing to U of M’s noncompetitive wages with other comprehensive research schools.
"The university will continue to bargain in good faith with UMFA, with the intention of concluding a collective agreement without a labour disruption," wrote Michael Benarroch, president of the U of M, in a community update Tuesday.
Benarroch said both parties continue to work together to conclude an agreement that supports stability in operations, an outstanding educational experience, fairness to faculty and sustainability for the school. He indicated "meaningful progress" has been made on many proposals since bargaining began Aug 5.
The school’s latest proposal includes: structural changes to boost pay scales for first- and second-year employees; the continued use of market supplements; and a four-year contract with annual increases of one per cent, one per cent, 1.25 per cent and 1.25 per cent.
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.