The Tremendous Strength of Collective Action, and the Importance of Solidarity – notes from UofM

| 01/02/2018

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

We are very happy to share our news that the Manitoba Labour Board has rules in favour of UMFA [University of Manitoba Faculty Association] in its Unfair Labour Practice filed against the University of Manitoba in connection with the 3 week strike in 2016.

In our 2016 round of negotiations the administration’s bargaining team took its salary offer off the bargaining table just days before our strike deadline, setting the stage for what would be a three week strike. Saying that the Pallister government had pressed them to do so, they claimed they had done everything they could to persuade the government to change course. Refusing to accept that there was no alternative, and knowing how important wages are to our members, we decided to make the best of a bad situation and put the question of salary to the Manitoba Labour Board while simultaneously attempting to make other gains at the bargaining table. Those attempts failed, and we walked the picket lines for 21 days with many of you joining us from around the country.

The Labour Board  found that the administration acted in Bad Faith by failing to tell us about salary discussions with government. They have ordered that the administration pay up to $2.4 million dollars in fines and apologize to all UMFA Members for its actions.

These fines are to be paid directly to UMFA Members, and the Board has ordered the amount to be negotiated with the administration. The law allows a maximum fine of $2,000 per Member, and we will push for that amount in full. 

While this is good news, there are several disturbing things that were made clear during the Labour Board hearings and in the final decision.  First, the government’s concern was less about spending at the University, and more about how UMFA’s negotiations would affect the rest of the public sector. If we made gains, others would also expect to see gains, causing problems for the government. Further, according to the testimony of the University’s AVP of Human Resources, the Provincial government appeared to actually invite a strike.  Second, while the administration repeatedly said they had done everything to dissuade the government from demanding a 0% wage increase, the Board concluded the administration did no such thing. Instead, in its communications with government the administration demonstrated its primary concern was protecting the University’s legal position and the perceptions of the University community – otherwise put, it was more concerned with public relations. Third, the government demanded that their directive be kept secret, and the University complied until the last moment. This was central to the Board’s decision: the University knew of the government’s mandate and had a duty to tell us all about it. The Board went so far as to say that waiting over 20 days  before filling us in was an act of misrepresentation and a violation of the duty to bargain in good faith. This is the basis for the fines and the apology. 

It is important to keep in mind that the conservative government’s actions were a prelude to Bill 28, the so-called “Public Services Sustainability Act”, which threatens claw-backs to any wage increases that go above 0%, 0.75%, and 1% in a four year period. We hold that this Act is unconstitutional and have joined the Partnership to Defend Public Services in a legal challenge that seeks financial and other remedies for the government’s actions.

We hope this sends a message to the U of M administration, who has now had three unfair labour practice rulings against them in the last ten years.  Unfortunately, their press release notes that the university “respectfully disagrees” with the Labour Board finding, believes it bargained in good faith, and is considering its options.  It will be difficult to trust the sincerity of any apology eventually issued in light of this reaction.

We also hope that this sends a message to other universities facing pressure from their provincial governments that they still have a legal duty to bargain in good faith and a moral duty to protect their employees, students, and institutions.  It may be impossible, or at least will take a very long time, to arrive at a point where the memory of this strike does not affect our relationship with the employer, with associated monetary and non-monetary implications.

In the meantime, though, we have made important gains in the last two rounds for workload protections, collegial governance, job security, faculty complement, and protections from the use of performance metrics, and will be negotiating salaries in the fall of 2020.  I think one of the most important lessons we have learned in Manitoba is the tremendous strength of collective action, and the importance of solidarity.  Everyone on the picket lines remembers the boost that came from other faculty associations and unions in the community in all types of support: messages, people on the picket line, food, and financial support.  We have forged links with all types of workers, and put down deeper roots in our own community. 

In solidarity,

UMFA

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Category: On The Line, Solidarity

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