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UMFA Bargaining Q+A

February 11, 2016 — 

With UMFA bargaining set to begin, UM Today sat down with associate vice-president (human resources) and bargaining team chief negotiator Greg Juliano to discuss the labour picture at the University and to outline what to expect over the next several months.

The University of Manitoba workforce includes many employee groups. What is the overall labour picture like today?

We have six unionized employee groups, and more than a dozen non-unionized groups. Because of this, we are almost constantly engaged in some sort of bargaining process — fortunately, we enjoy generally good relations with all our employees.

In December, AESES ratified a new agreement covering approximately 2,600 support staff; AESES is the University’s largest union. The 91% approval vote was achieved through interest-based bargaining, a collaborative, problem-solving approach to the discussions. As an institution, we were very pleased to participate in the interest-based bargaining process. It’s a newer, more collaborative approach to negotiations, and I think it’s more in line with the overall spirit of our times. To paraphrase our Prime Minister, it’s 2016; there really must be better ways to address some of our issues. I’d like to think labour negotiations don’t have to be adversarial.

More recently, in January, CUPE ratified a new agreement covering approximately 500 sessional instructors, part-time librarians and part-time counselors. So those two groups, representing more than 3,000 University of Manitoba staff, have settled.

We are now entering bargaining with UMFA, representing approximately 1,300 faculty members and librarians.

What can the University community expect from the UMFA bargaining process?

We’re always hopeful entering bargaining sessions. Our recent successful negotiations with two bargaining groups certainly signals that the University of Manitoba is committed to negotiating fairly with its employee groups.

It’s promising to see us embrace an early start. We hope that an early start can make a real difference.

Faculty are critical to the University of Manitoba. They have the most direct impact on students, lead the research studies that benefit our province and our world, and conduct outreach that improves our communities. Indeed, universities are largely judged on the teaching and research accomplishments of their full-time faculty. We all benefit from an ability to attract and retain the best, and from creating working conditions in which faculty can be productive.

I think we’re well-positioned for positive talks. We have the early start, as well as the recent settlements with AESES and CUPE, with salary increases in a time of considerable restraint. We also successfully settled three years ago with UMFA for substantial salary increases intended to make our institution more competitive in recruiting and retaining faculty. One of the more important other terms was a completely re-written section dealing with academic freedom, representing a renewed commitment on the part of the administration to protect academic freedom, which is critical to the work of a university.

What will be the University’s approach?

We are committed to fair and timely negotiations. The bargaining team, in consultation with the administration and the Board of Governors, has developed a set of guiding principles, available on the Bargaining Updates website. We believe that these principles speak to the strong support the University of Manitoba shows for both our faculty and our students.

How will the University community be kept informed of the status of the negotiations with UMFA?

We have heard in the past that people would like to know more about the bargaining process, and we want to respond positively to that request. Labour laws restrict what the University can communicate during bargaining in order not to compromise the process or be seen to be bargaining directly with the members.

As official bargaining agent for its members, UMFA is allowed greater flexibility to communicate with its members, which is why faculty members can expect to receive more frequent and more detailed updates from UMFA than from the University.

However, we will do our best to keep the entire university community informed about what stage bargaining is at, as well as some of the topics being discussed. We will share as much information as we possibly can, as promptly as possible. This question and answer, for example, is an attempt to provide more context and information as we enter bargaining.

The Bargaining Updates website will be the primary source of information. In the interests of accountability and transparency, we intend to put as much information as possible on the website.

What is the expected timeline?

With this early start, we hope to use the time ahead productively, and we will continue working with the Association so long as our discussions are fruitful.  This makes it hard to predict an exact timeline. Our commitment is to timeliness, and we will do what we can to avoid eleventh hour anxieties. We hope for a very collaborative interaction which avoids some of the confrontational and positional aspects of traditional bargaining. That’s a genuine hope. We’d like to see things transpire differently this year, and as a bargaining team, we are committed to bring what we can to the table to help make that happen.

Is a strike possible?

All labour unions have the right to strike, and we respect their right to do so. As a result, a strike is always is a possibility in the process of bargaining for a new collective agreement.

I think it’s safe to say that nobody wants a strike; we sincerely believe that our faculty care about students and do not want their learning compromised in any way. Certainly we as a university do not want to see student learning and activities disrupted in any way. We know how hard they work, how much time, effort, and money they invest in their studies; we respect that investment. As our guiding principles outline, we  will do what we can to avoid a disruption to student learning and progress while working to best address the needs of the entire university community.

 

>Read the UM Today story: “UMFA-UM officially enter bargaining period.”

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