Winnipeg, MB – On Monday night, the UMSU Board of Directors unanimously approved a motion endorsing binding arbitration to resolve the ongoing labour dispute between the University and its academic staff. This decision followed a period of diligent consultation by the UMSU executive, a student poll, and invitations for both parties within the dispute to present to the Board.
As a result of this motion, UMSU will be organizing an advocacy campaign this week which will endorse binding arbitration. This campaign will feature an open letter to the University community explaining the organization’s stance, an open letter to the Provincial government criticizing its continuous interference with the internal affairs of the institution, a petition, and an e-mail writing template.
Additionally, UMSU continues to take proactive steps to safe-guard their members in preparation for potential academic disruption. Anticipating an Operational Continuity Committee of administration, identical to that of 2016, UMSU plans to present proposals for both student immunity from academic consequences for crossing legal picket lines and academic considerations. These considerations could include the extension of the voluntary withdrawal (VW) deadline, the removal of a VW or drop status from student transcripts, and tuition refunds for unfinished coursework.
Earlier in the day, the University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) announced that over the weekend its members voted to authorize a potential strike later this term, to support the UMFA’s salary demands. UMFA decided to facilitate this vote as a result of the U of M bargaining team rejecting multiple UMFA requests for binding arbitration and compensation for the unconstitutional Public Services Sustainability Act (PSSA). These conversations surrounding a new 12-month labour contract have been ongoing since August 2020.
Said UMSU President, Jelynn Dela Cruz: “While the COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting the most prominent opportunities for growth within our communities, it is also vividly illustrating the Provincial factors that are holding post-secondary institutions back. Additional uncertainty for students due to this labour dispute is only a preventable consequence which adds dimension to the much larger issue of government interference. As students, this wasn’t what we bargained for.”
While the UMFA vote was taking place, UMSU simultaneously surveyed over 3,600 of its own members about their awareness of the situation and the potential negative outcomes students may face in the event of the strike.
Respondents voiced particular concerns over their mental health, given how a further disruption of classes this fall would compound the stress of already being forced to navigate studying online amid pandemic restrictions. Others pointed to how the holiday break is typically a time when many students are able to earn crucial income by being able to increase their part-time work hours, or how a delay in final grades being determined as a result of a strike could delay graduation dates or force students to miss deadlines to apply for graduate school programs.
Many respondents also expressed how they no longer feel they are getting equal value for the enormous financial burdens they are taking on to attend university. By students having to accommodate an earlier decision to increase tuition by an average of 3.75%, they are now paying more now for a reduced quality of learning than they were in previous years for in-person instruction. Now, students are potentially having to self-educate in isolation, without a professor’s guidance, should a strike occur.
Added UMSU Vice President Advocacy, Kristin Smith: “This isn’t the time to be playing hardball when it comes to academic accommodations for students. Students are simply caught in the crossfire of this wage dispute, and deserve generous accommodations to ensure their grades, transcripts, pockets, and futures are not damaged as a result. We hope the university will exercise empathy and accountability towards students during this challenging time, choosing to act in good faith towards us, the institution’s central stakeholders.”
Many others lamented that this may be the second time in four years that they are caught up in a strike action after a similar situation in 2016 led classes to be suspended for three weeks, and that the inability for both faculty and the university to engage in productive dialogue will once again have the biggest impact on students, despite successive years of tuition raises.
The UMSU survey also found that, as a means to resolve the labour dispute, the number of students that were in support of binding arbitration was over five times higher than those opposed to it.
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