The University of Manitoba is not plagued by recruitment and retention issues, but its academics should receive general salary increases of 2.25 per cent annually throughout a new contract so their wages are competitive, an independent arbitrator has ruled.
On Monday, Toronto arbitrator William Kaplan released a written ruling to settle salary negotiations between Manitoba’s largest university and the faculty association that represents its roughly 1,200 professors, instructors and librarians.
Since bargaining began in the summer, the union has repeatedly cited concerns about their employer’s low wages among the U15 — a national collective of major research-intensive universities — and as a result, staffing shortages and turnover challenges.
Professors set up picket lines in protest on Nov. 2 and after more than a month of campus disruption, U of M and the faculty association agreed to enter binding arbitration to finalize a new collective agreement.
The parties tasked Kaplan with determining general salary increases, in addition to recruitment and retention adjustments. They agreed he should be guided by a mutual aim to ensure "reasonable advancement" towards the 25th percentile in the U15 during the life of the collective agreement.
In his March 28 ruling, Kaplan concluded UMFA member salaries should increase by 2.25 per cent every year over the three-year contract, spanning 2021-22 to 2023-24. He declined to award any adjustments to address staffing challenges.
"I am not satisfied based on the evidence put before me that there is a retention issue; there is most definitely not a recruitment issue… For example, not a single (senior ranking) librarian has resigned in the last five years and it is far from challenging to fill vacancies," Kaplan wrote in his decision.
At the same time, the arbitrator ordered the university to pay employees for their work during the latter half of the fall term, which was compressed and extended into early 2022 because of the 35-day strike.
"One hundred per cent of the teaching assigned was performed and so 100 per cent of the teaching must be paid for," he said.
Professors can expect a lump sum of $1,000 and other members will receive $500.
The ruling also includes a pension award that allows UMFA members to make both employee and university contributions to the pension plan for the period of the strike. It does not grant UMFA’s requests for either reimbursements for health and welfare benefits paid throughout the strike or union dues from employees who did not participate in the job action.
Union leader Orvie Dingwall said academics are pleased with the outcome and look forward to providing stability for students and rebuilding a relationship with administration in the wake of government interference.
(Last month, a provincial judge ordered the Tory government to pay UMFA more than $19.3 million in damages after the province secretly inserted itself into bargaining talks at the university in 2016.)
"We were tied for 14th, almost at the bottom (of the U15). UMFA’s proposals for the general salary increase would’ve taken us to 11th place… We won’t make it quite to 11, but we definitely move out of 14," Dingwall said Monday.
The union had proposed wages be raised annually by 3.3 per cent, 3.6 per cent and 2.5 per cent over the contract, during virtual proceedings held earlier this month.
The university’s plan — which suggested structural changes made earlier in the bargaining process had amounted to a four per cent increase — included annual increases of 1.25 in the first year, followed by 1.50 and 1.75, respectively.
U of M did not immediately provide comment on the ruling.
On the subject of staffing challenges, Dingwall said it was tricky to provide the arbitrator with numerical evidence because search committees are confidential but she has heard from many members about the real issues at the post-secondary institute.
"We were really at a crossroads," she said. "We either had to address our compensation and whether we were competitive within the U15 or not. If we didn’t address it now, it would really balloon into a significant problem."
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.