UMFA Special General Meeting

The UMFA Collective Agreement Committee has reviewed the feedback you’ve provided in constituency meetings and the bargaining survey that was sent your way last month, and used that information to develop bargaining proposals. There will be a Special General Meeting Thursday, July 20 at 2:00 p.m. in the Schultz Lecture Theatre at St. John’s College to discuss those proposals.

July 6, 2017

Dear UMFA Members,

This is my first President’s message, and I would first like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to lead the faculty association in 2017-18.  I am honoured, and will do my best to serve the membership. 

Things have been very busy in the UMFA office.  First, on June 30, we said goodbye to our professional officer Barb Yapps as she begins her well-deserved retirement after many dedicated years at UMFA.  Things will simply not be the same without her.  Barb has helped hundreds of members over the years with a calm and cheerful demeanour, and defended them with fierce tenacity and determination.  I know we all wish her the very best and will miss her greatly. 

We have hired Andrew MacIsaac to join Jason Gisser, our other in-house legal counsel.  Andrew is a graduate of Robson Hall, and has extensive experience with unions and labour law. We are very pleased to have him joining our team. 

So, let me update you on some of our recent activities. 

A legal challenge to the Public  Sector Sustainability Act (Bill 28) and Bargaining in 2017

First, you’ve heard that UMFA has joined the Partnership to Defend Public Services (PDPS) in filing an injunction against the recently passed Public Sector Accountability Act.  This act, once proclaimed, limits the University to wage increases of 0%, 0%, 0.75%, and 1% for union contracts negotiated after March 20, 2017.  We have sought an injunction preventing the imposition of the act, whether it is proclaimed or not, as we firmly believe it is a violation of our constitutional rights.  The injunction would allow us to fully engage in bargaining and address compensation issues at the bargaining table this summer. The legal claim itself, the PDPS press release that was sent out on Tuesday morning, and all the press coverage so far can be found on our website. 

In parallel with this, we are preparing for bargaining as our last collective agreement ended on March 31.  We thank all of you who took time to participate in our constituency meetings and filled out our bargaining survey.  Using this information, our UMFA staff and the Collective Agreement Committee are now finalizing our package of proposals that will be brought to a Special General Meeting later this month. For a brief primer on bargaining, see our latest Newsletter, which can be found at this link. 

Some Reflections on President Barnard’s Recent Comments

Finally, let me briefly address President Barnard’s response to a letter that we sent him regarding the recently passed University budget (which is on our website, here).  In his letter, he said he was challenged to replicate our claim that the welcome increase to the unit budgets only restored most of this year’s cuts, but the units are still $20.3 million below the 2012-2013 levels.  Our numbers were based on the following:

Cumulative cuts to faculties, colleges and libraries baseline budgets since 2013-14

 

2013-14

2014-15

2015-16

2016-17

2017-18

Annual (cut) increase

-3.9

-4.7

-10.1

-7.8

6.2

Cumulative since 2013

-3.9

-8.6

-18.7

-26.5

-20.3

           

These come from Table 1 of the budget submissions provided to, and passed by, the Board of Governors for 2013-2016 budget years, and from Attachment 3 of the 2017-2018 budget submission.  These budget submissions can be found within the Board of Governors open agendas at the following links:

These cuts concern us – the administration’s spending priorities must address U of M’s core mission of research and teaching.  We need to ensure faculty renewal, job security, fair compensation, fair workloads, safe and accessible facilities, reasonable class sizes, and adequate course offerings to provide our students with the quality of education they deserve.

I think it’s also important to address several of President Barnard’s other comments, particularly those in regard to an interview with Robert Chernomas, UMFA’s Chief Negotiator in 2016-2017, that was published by CAUT not long ago (see https://www.caut.ca/bulletin/2017/05/interview-robert-chernomas.) I echo what Dr. Chernomas has said. The administration needs to understand that our position at the bargaining table is not the will of any single individual – we establish our bargaining positions through a participatory democratic process. When the UMFA bargaining team enters bargaining it is with a mandate. 

President Barnard also took issue with Dr. Chernomas’s assertion that strike votes are the only means by which academic freedom, fair salaries, and collegial governance can be protected.  Unfortunately, we have ample evidence from the 2013 and 2016 bargaining rounds to support Robert’s position.

Without negotiated contracts, university administrations have control over the University’s budgets and resources, discipline of members, how to define academic freedom, what metrics to use, when to amalgamate faculties and departments, and more. Sometimes the only way to convince the administration how important these issues are to our Members is with the threat of a strike. In the 2013 round of bargaining the three issues still on the table toward the end of negotiations were academic freedom, performance indicators, and amalgamation. President Barnard’s bargaining team, during dozens of meetings throughout the summer, made it clear that they had no interest in providing any language that might limit their power to define academic freedom, amalgamate units, or impose performance indicators. It only under the threat of a strike that the administration made concessions on those matters.

Similarly, in 2016, after a long summer of bargaining, a strike vote, and a strike deadline, there was no significant movement from the administration’s bargaining team on the issues of core concern to Members.  It was only after 20 days of strike that President Barnard’s administration agreed to language that began to address Members’ concerns on workload, among other things.

Looking Forward

This is a new round and it is our sincere hope that we can move forward with good faith and resolve on both sides. What I learned during the strike was that strength comes from solidarity.  When we stand together and support one another, our voices are more likely to be heard.  We speak in Senate, we speak in our classes, we speak in the community, and we speak at the bargaining table.  I am hopeful that this round we will be heard and will reach a satisfactory agreement without a labour disruption that is hard on all of the university community. 

Please be looking for an announcement of the date of our special general meeting.   I hope to see many of you there, and I look forward to a good year.  Remember that we are just a phone call or email away if needed, and enjoy the summer sunshine.

Best wishes,

Janet Morrill
UMFA President

The Partnership to Defend Public Services (PDPS) is a group of unions representing over 100,000 workers in Manitoba.  The group was formed to challenge the Pallister government's Public Services Sustainability Act, and to defend public services and their employees.  On July 4, this group filed for an injunction against the Act.  The statement of claim is below (click on the image to access the entire document), as well as a press release issued by the Manitoba Federation of Labour on behalf of the Partnership.

 

STATEMENT OF CLAIM filed

pdfSTATEMENT OF CLAIM filed in the Court of Queen's Bench on July 4

 

Legal Challenge Launch News Release

 

The UM Board of Governors recently passed the 2017-18 budget. Below is a modified version of a letter that was sent to the University President from outgoing-UMFA-President Mark Hudson. It covers some of the highlights of, and problems with, that budget.

 

Budget Highs and Lows – a reflection on the UM Budget, 2017-18

UMFA welcomes the increases in baseline and one-time funding to faculties and libraries, which have suffered heavily over the last several years of successive cuts. We look forward to seeing these new funds used to advance the core, public mission of the University, and to helping alleviate some of the stresses that have arisen among professors, librarians, and instructors as the complement of UMFA Members has dwindled.

We further wish to congratulate the administration on the fact that over the past three years, budget documents have become more clear and transparent, enabling comparison across budget years. 

While the increases this year are indeed a promising sign, UMFA believes that as a community, we must reckon with the depth of the cuts inflicted so far, and recognize that this year’s boosts represent only one step toward renewal. The announced increases to baseline for faculties, colleges, and libraries replace 70% of last year’s cut, and are the first increase to baseline budgets for five years. Even with this year’s increases, faculties, libraries, and colleges remain $20.5 million below 2012-13 funding levels. We therefore note with optimism the administration’s commitment to press government at all levels to adequately fund post-secondary education in the province.

We also greatly appreciate that some of the budgeted increases will go towards renewing the faculty complement. The $0.8 million for targeted faculty hires and $3.6 million for faculty and support staff renewal in academic units is hugely welcome relief and will help our members to better undertake their important roles as teachers, researchers, and scholars.  On the back-of-the-envelope, we hope to see 44 positions or so filled given this commitment. Again, however, it is worth noting in the midst of the celebrations that, according to our attrition data at UMFA, since 2014 our community has experienced a net loss of 117 UMFA Members.

The university’s current capacity to fund baseline and one-time increases has been created by squeezing librarians, instructors, and professors, and through the erosion of their conditions of work—which are also the conditions of learning for our students. We are thus keenly interested to ensure that the budgeted increases are used to begin alleviating this. We appreciate this first step on the road, and look forward to rebuilding our complement in future years such that accreditations are ensured, supervisory and service work is more widely shared, classes are offered with sufficient frequency and diversity to ensure that students get what they need, and our faculty have the time to do all aspects of their work according the high standards they set for themselves.    

With regard to this, UMFA views with considerable concern the priority given to capital projects in the current budget, relative to renewal of the operating budgets for faculties, colleges, and libraries. The budgeted transfer from operating to capital increased steeply in 2016-17 (from $27 million the year previous to $48 million) and remains high ($42 million) for 2017-18. More of these funds should be committed to repairing the loss of faculty positions suffered over the past three years. To use funds saved from wage freezes for anything but staffing is unacceptable. 

We note also President Barnard’s recognition that some of the flexibility in this year’s budget originates with the University’s inability to provide competitive and fair salaries for its employees. This inability derives from the “public sector wage pause” enshrined in Bill 28. 

UMFA is disappointed that the University makes no comment on the irreparable harm that this legislation is certain to visit upon our community. With salary levels already below those of our peer institutions, two years of zero increases followed by two years of increases well below inflation are likely to make it extraordinarily difficult to attract excellent new scholars, or to retain those already here.

There is no doubt that should Bill 28 become law, our community will suffer the loss of some of our best and most promising researchers and teachers. The public needs to be made aware of the lasting damage threatened by Bill 28, particularly at this critical moment, since the legislation has not yet been proclaimed, and is as a consequence not in effect. To be perfectly clear, at the moment, there is no inability to increase salary or other forms of compensation under the law—there is only the threat.

Manitoba labour and community members lined up to testify against the legislation, citing its highly dubious constitutionality, its infringement on the autonomy of the universities, its sledgehammer approach to dealing with provincial finances, and the very significant damage it is sure to do to many of Manitoba’s public institutions, including its universities. We noted with disappointment, however, the absence of the leadership of those same public institutions at the hearings, or otherwise in the public eye.  

We hope that we are able to meet the challenges ahead with a unified voice in defense of UM’s critical role in our province. UMFA is encouraged at this budget’s reaffirmation that the heart and soul of our university resides in its faculties, colleges, and libraries. It is good to see the beginning of renewal of financial support that will facilitate excellent teaching and research. 

At the same time, it needs to be recognized that UMFA Members have been bearing the brunt of the cuts over the past four or five years.  Addressing these challenges requires that we make funding the ongoing renewal of our faculty complement the University’s highest priority.

The 2017-2018 UM Budget is available on pages 16-33 of the Board of Governors May 23 agenda

Bill 28, the Public Services Sustainability Act was introduced by the Pallister government earlier this spring.  This legislation will freeze the wages of 120,000 public-sector workers for two years and cap their pay for another two years.  UMFA submitted a letter to the Standing Committee on Bill 28, which can be found here, and also appeared at the hearings on May 8.

Below is some recent media on the Act.

Manitoba public-sector unions launch court challenge over wage freezes
CBC, July 4, 2017: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/unions-manitoba-government-court-wage-freeze-1.4189569

Labour coalition sues province over wage-control law
Winnipeg Free Press, July 4, 2017: http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/labour-coalition-sues-province-over-wage-control-law-432487923.html

Labour files injunction against Tories
Winnipeg Sun, July 4, 2017: http://www.winnipegsun.com/2017/07/04/labour-files-injunction-against-tories

Unions to challenge Manitoba government in court
Global News, July 4, 2017: http://globalnews.ca/news/3573951/unions-to-challenge-manitoba-government-in-court/

Union leaders threaten to fight Tory wage control bill in court
Winnipeg Free Press, May 8, 2017: http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/union-leaders-threaten-to-fight-tory-wage-control-bill-in-court-421691993.html

Pallister's steady campaign to provoke unions
Winnipeg Free Press, May 8, 2017: http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/pallisters-steady-campaign-to-provoke-unions-421581623.html

Manitoba unions make last effort to stop contentious labour bills
CBC, May 8, 2017: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/unions-pallister-bargaining-bills-1.4105825