Understanding the University of Manitoba Strike

umfa-strike-lineBy Scott Price

1200 professors, instructors and librarians at the University of Manitoba are on strike.

Picket Lines started at 7am on November 1 after talks between the university administration and University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) broke down. Picket lines are at four locations. Three around the Fort Garry campus area in south Winnipeg and another on the Bannatyne campus in downtown Winnipeg. UMFA and the U of M administration have been bargaining since May. UMFA has been without a contract since March 31.

Mediation sessions started on Tuesday October 25. On Friday October 28 both U of M president David Barnard and UMFA president Mark Hudson released a joint statement criticizing the Tory provincial government for trying to direct the university to extend the faculty’s current offer for one year without any salary increases.

UMFA stayed at the negotiation table over the weekend to negotiate non-monetary issues. These issues were mainly workload and performance indicators, as well as job security assurances for instructors and librarians. UMFA has stated that there are increasing unreasonable and unmanageable workloads that adversely affect their teaching and research. UMFA is also calling for protection against the administration’s ability to judge research based on narrow, quantitative measures like how many citations a professor or instructor has.

UMFA submitted a final proposal to the university on Sunday and received a counter offer on Monday. Mark Hudson told the Manitoban (the U of M student newspaper) that the administrations offer was “a very clear rejection of our offer.”

Mark Hudson went on to elaborate that UMFA was willing to set aside monetary issues if they got substantial movement on the non-monetary issues but the administration gave little room in that area. The university administration said this claim was “disingenuous”. Recently U of M officials have claimed that UMFA are “holding students hostage” while trying to strip deans of management rights and looking for “complete control over their workloads.”

CBC Manitoba reported on Friday November 4 more than a third of UMFA members have crossed the picket line. John Kearsey, vice-president of external relations for the U of M, said 448 of the 1,216 members of the University of Manitoba Faculty Association have returned to work since the strike started. This number was arrived at based on the hundreds of professors who have filled out and submitted a form stating they intend to return to normal duties. Mark Hudson UMFA president said he could not confirm those numbers and questioned their reliability.

The U of M is also facing an unfair labour practice charge. The complaint is due to the U of M’s refusal to bargain on monetary issues after the provincial government advised to extend the current offer for one year without salary increases. UMFA is claiming this constitutes bargaining in bad faith.

The University of Manitoba Students Union (UMSU) has taken a neutral stance on the strike stating in a release that it “recognizes the importance of UMFA’s demands as it pertains to quality education” but only encourages individual student body associations at the faculty level to make a conclusion of support on their own.

Students have been joining UMFA on the picket line in support. Students from the U of M Student Action Network have organized daily support on the picket lines as well as organizing teach-ins on the major issues on the strike.