The faculty at the University of Manitoba hit the line Tuesday morning after contract negotiations reached a stalemate.
About two dozen people were at the main entrance to the university on Chancellor Matheson Road just before 8 a.m., blocking traffic at intervals.
The University of Manitoba Faculty Association, the union for more than 1,000 U of M employees, has fought for higher salaries for its members, arguing that low salaries cause persistent retention and recruitment problems.
The university ranks second last out of the 15 research-based institutions measured by salary.
The average salary among U to M teachers, including deans, was $ 136,925 in 2020-21, That’s what Canada’s statistics say.
Excluding teaching staff in the medical and dental faculties, that number dropped to $ 131,725.
Tuition wages in the lowest 10th percentile were around $ 94,150, meaning only 10 percent of wages are below that figure, according to Statistics Canada.
The university’s report on public compensation for 2020 shows several salaries for teachers, with some professors at the Faculty of Medicine earning more than $ 300,000.
The union says the province is interfering
The union has also called on the province to lift its wage mandate, which it says has prevented successful negotiations with the university administration.
“We just feel like the government is in their back pocket or in that space with them, and that’s not appropriate. The university needs to be independent of the government,” UMFA president Orvie Dingwall said Tuesday.
Job action happens outside the university and almost because of the pandemic, Dingwall said.
She said the virtual strike will involve calling MLAs and the new premier.
Trade unionists also plan to be outside Manitoba law on Tuesday afternoon when Heather Stefanson is sworn in as prime minister.
U of M President Michael Benarroch said he believed the university made a strong offer that included changes in the pay structure to help solve retention and recruitment issues.
A statement providing a detailed overview of its offerings on the university’s website states that the two-year agreement included a general wage increase of 1.25 per cent in the first year and a general wage increase of 1.5 per cent in the second year.
The offer also includes changes in the salary structure, which corresponds to an average increase of 9.5 percent over two years, the university states.
Overall, the deal represented an average of about 5.9 percent in new money, with other increases already included in the current deal, Benarroch said.
“But you know, I have a feeling at the end of the day that we really did not put enough – or we did not have enough – money to be able to put on the table to convince UMFA that this was what they needed at present. time, “he said.
Benarroch said the province has always given mandates for salaries at the university and has the right to do so. He said the university has never gone against these mandates historically.
“We have never done that as a university. We have always followed government mandates. We have always talked to the government about the salaries we will offer and it has always been, you know, an agreed number.” he said.
The chairman of UMFA would not say specifically what they would consider a reasonable salary offer, but said they would like to come to the negotiating table.
“We negotiate in good faith and really just with the ultimate goal of quality education for students,” Dingwall said.
Second strike for some students
This is the second strike from the University of Manitoba faculty in five years, with the last strike in 2016.
For some students, it is also the second strike they have been through while trying to complete their education.
Brendan Scott, president of the U of M Students’ Union, said Monday that some instructors and professors have removed online learning materials, leaving students in the lurch.
Uncertainty causes students a lot of anxiety, he said.
The student union supports the professors’ demands for a salary increase.
Dingwall said the course material was removed because it is considered the professor’s intellectual property, and removing it is part of the union’s strike action.
UMFA acknowledges that the strike is disruptive, but stressed that they are doing it to maintain and improve the quality of education at U of M, Dingwall said.
“We share these frustrations and we experience the same disruptions, but we really know it affects the students the most,” she said.
Benarroch also said he feels terrible for college students and he hopes the university and union can find out something as soon as possible.
“I want them to know that I know everyone at U of M will try as hard as possible to try to solve this and in less time.”
The school says not all classes have been canceled as some instructors are not part of the union which is now on strike, so students should check the university’s website for more information.