A Message From Your UMSU President – Our Chance to #SaveTheSemester

 

Message from Your UMSU President Graphic

 

In brief: UMSU has launched its #SaveTheSemester campaign in an effort to prevent academic disruption due to an impending strike by faculty at the U of M. Students can take action by: 

 

  1. Signing UMSU’s online petition to the Province, asking it to ease the 0% salary raise mandate imposed on the University of Manitoba, providing our administration with the tools they need to negotiate a deal with faculty. Here is the link to the petition: shorturl.at/cdoK9

 

  1. Writing a personal email to Dr. Benarroch and his team, asking to move to binding arbitration to prevent a strike. Here is the link to a template that you can use: shorturl.at/bwAH2

 

  1. Sharing both action items widely. Encourage your peers to channel their anger and frustration into making student voices heard. There are many things at play here but we need each other, and we need to stay focused on collectively mobilizing a wave of student advocacy.

 

Read on as your UMSU President summarizes key details, like binding arbitration, third party mediation, job action, and more!

 

Dear fellow students, 

 

It’s no question that this year’s Fall reading week has an unusual backdrop. With COVID-19 cases on the rise, our Province in Code Red, worsening student mental health, and threats of a faculty strike – it’s safe to say that, while we pride ourselves on being Bisons, this wasn’t the year we all bargained for when we began our post-secondary journeys this Fall.

 

Fully understanding the challenges we’re each battling at the moment, I wanted to make this letter a crash course, bringing the student body up to speed on what’s happening around them and what UMSU is doing about it.

 

First off, since my last letter, you may have heard that UMSU was able to complete an impromptu poll surrounding the current University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) labour dispute. Through that poll, we received over 3,600 responses

 

While I won’t dive too deep into the full scope of the poll, I will bring attention to the fact that about 65% of respondents reported that word of mouth was their central source of information when it comes to the UMFA labour dispute. That being said, I hope that we can all do our part to remain informed, keep our conversations factual, and spread accurate information as news arises.

 

Last week, I had the opportunity to gather as much information as possible, by meeting with the University President, Dr. Benarroch, and the UMFA President, Professor Michael Shaw, several times. The advocacy team at UMSU has been working many angles to safe-guard the student body amid the added uncertainty provided by the ongoing labour dispute. 

 

Please see the following breakdown of some key terms you’ll be hearing.

 

 

  • Strike deadline:

 

 

If the University bargaining team does not put a suitable offer on the table by the strike deadline, UMFA will call a strike with a 24 hour notice period. UMFA’s strike deadline is THIS SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 14 at 11:59 PM. Therefore, the earliest that UMFA could be on strike is Monday, November 16. If we don’t act THIS WEEK, we may not return to classes this term.

 

 

  • Binding arbitration

 

 

This is when both parties in a labour dispute surrender their bargaining power and appoint a mutually agreed-upon third-party arbitrator, whose job is to reach a determination on  a fair, reasonable deal for both sides, and to which both sides agree in advance to follow no matter any subsequent objections to the final outcome. This would eliminate the uncertainty of months of bargaining that may invoke job action from UMFA and detrimental academic disruption for students – mind you: during a global pandemic.

 

 

  • Third-party mediation

 

 

This is where the University and UMFA are at now. This is when both parties continue in their bargaining practices, with the addition of an appointed third-party mediator. The third-party mediator’s job is to assist both parties in finding a deal that is reasonable to both sides. However, this process will still drag out the uncertainty surrounding job action that binding arbitration seeks to eliminate.

 

 

  • Public Service Sustainability Act (PSSA)

 

 

For those who were with us in 2016, you will remember the words “government interference” or the Public Service Sustainability Act (PSSA). In 2016, the University had offered UMFA an incremental increase of the following: 1%, 2%, 2%, 2%. The Province interfered, using the PSSA, which severely limited bargaining efforts and the University complied. In this instance, by following the Province’s PSSA, the University also violated the Labour Relations Act, damaging the relationship between the University and their academic staff. 

 

In June 2020, Justice McKelvy of the Provincial court ruled that the PSSA was unconstitutional. The Justice wrote:  “I have concluded that the PSSA operates as a draconian measure that has inhibited and dramatically reduced the unions’ bargaining power and violates s.2(d) association rights.” 

 

Today, UMFA seeks restitution for the PSSA in the form of monetary compensation that would directly serve equity seeking groups, namely Black, Indigenous, and Students of Colour. UMFA also wants the University to stand up to the Province for their continued interference, choosing a new path than the one followed in the past. This time around, the Labour Relations Act may be their biggest asset. The only opportunity for UMFA to receive these two outcomes effectively is within the wage reopener.

 

 

  • Provincial mandate:

 

 

Similar to the PSSA four years ago, the current Provincial mandate may result in a stern 0% increase to staff compensation, impacting the full four year contract period. UMFA isn’t the only union being limited this way. The events that unfold for UMFA will set precedent for the nurses, social workers, doctors, etc. who also have their contracts up for renewal and bargaining in 2021. This is over four years in the making.

 

The last thing that we want is for 29,000 of Manitoba’s best and brightest students – who  will lead this Province’s post-pandemic economic recovery – facing severe graduation delays and unfair labour contracts upon graduation. This is a problem that will directly impact all of us, whether we choose to ignore it or not.

 

 

  • Wage reopener:

 

 

The wage reopener is the twelve month period in which only the wage portion of the UMFA Collective Bargaining agreement may be discussed. Unfortunately, the University is in the middle of this at the moment and has until May 2021 to settle the dispute. This means that: so long as the University is operating outside of binding arbitration, the threat of academic disruption will remain on the table during the entire bargaining period.

 

  • Job action / strike / academic disruption:

 

All of these things, to the student body, mean exactly the same thing: classes halted, a potential delay in graduation, an even lower quality of education, and further strain on student wellbeing. Once again, students are caught in the crossfire. This is ultimately what all of UMSU’s efforts strive to prevent. 

 

Like yourself, I’m frustrated and angry that students are once again being reduced to a bargaining chip. However, I’m also aware of our collective power, as the primary stakeholders of the University – the reason it exists. It’s time for us to channel this uncertainty into action. This week may be our only chance.

 

Three central ways that you and your networks can #SaveTheSemester include:

  1. Signing UMSU’s online petition to the Province, asking it to ease the 0% salary raise mandate imposed on the University of Manitoba, providing our administration with the tools they need to negotiate a deal with faculty. Here is the link to the petition: shorturl.at/cdoK9

2. Writing a personal email to Dr. Benarroch and his team, asking to move to binding arbitration to prevent a strike. Here is the link to a template that you can use: shorturl.at/bwAH2

 

3. Sharing both action items widely. Encourage your peers to channel their anger and frustration into making student voices heard. There are many things at play here but we need each other, and we need to stay focused on collectively mobilizing a wave of student advocacy.

 

UMSU  has been diligently working in the background in the following ways:

 

  • Maintaining the student perspective at various meetings of the Board of Governors, Senate, with the University administration, with UMFA, and more!
  • Coordinating a formal legislative petition for an MLA to present at an upcoming sitting of the legislature, asking the Government of Manitoba to lift its 0% salary increase mandate.
  • Submitting an open letter to the University administration and Government of Manitoba  urging students to be safeguarded from academic disruptions,  highlighting the implications on student wellbeing and insisting on binding arbitration to resolve negotiations.
  • Making use of the momentum generated by the student body through both the petition and letter-writing campaign to lobby for: additional compensation for students in the event of academic disruption, and student representation on any existing academic or operations continuity committees
  • Actively listening to the concerns of students at large, continuing the spirit encouraged by our recent poll and UMSU Board of Directors meetings
  • Keeping students informed through our press releases through @myumsu and at: https://umsu.ca/news/ 

 

None of the items above will be possible without your help. It’s due time that we recognized our power as students. There are over 29,000 of us and we are the reason that this very University exists. 

 

Once more, let’s turn this uncertainty into action. This is the week.

 

Thank you and please take care,

Jelynn Dela Cruz

President, University of Manitoba Students’ Union

 

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