Striking U of M faculty table 6.5 per cent wage increase

·3 min read

Academics at the University of Manitoba have proposed the administration agree to a cumulative wage hike of 6.5 per cent over three years to end the strike.

The faculty association, which represents upwards of 1,200 U of M professors, instructors and librarians, announced Thursday it had tabled an offer that’s the equivalent of an $8.3-million request that it says would address recruitment and retention issues.

The proposal includes a three-year agreement that includes two per cent annual wage increases during the initial two years and a 2.5 per cent raise in the final year. The union wants increases to recruitment and retention adjustments over the term and instructor wages raised in line with the librarian pay schedule.

Prior to the start of the strike, the U of M had proposed a two-year agreement with general increases of 1.25 per cent and 1.5 per cent, in addition to a two per cent hike from changes to pay scales. The administration did not provide an update on its bargaining website Thursday, aside from indicating mediation had resumed.

Union president Orvie Dingwall said the administration has not strayed from the 1.25 and 1.5 per cent figures in more than a week, leading her to believe the university is in line with a provincial mandate that stands in the way of addressing low wages, which have affected staffing challenges.

“We can’t afford to fall any further behind,” said Dingwall, noting the average salary at the U of M is the second-lowest of Canada’s 15 esteemed research universities. “The salary offer we tabled (on the third day of the strike) is going to keep us competitive.”

The province has repeatedly declined to comment on bargaining and its wage increase mandate because it is not the employer. It claims the mandate itself, however, is standard practice and does not amount to interference — contrary to the union’s allegations.

Last year, the average annual salary at U of M, dean wages included, was nearly $137,000. The same sum at the University of Saskatchewan — another U15 institution in a city on the Prairies with a comparable cost of living, albeit slightly higher than Winnipeg’s — was around $159,000.

The current floor salary for an instructor at U of M is about $60,000. Assistant, associate and full professors make at least $73,000, $85,000, and $105,000, respectively. The base wage for a general librarian is around $58,000, with full librarians making at least $97,000.

The author of an analysis piece on the labour dispute, which was published on the Higher Education Strategy Associates blog on Thursday, suggested it’s time for faculty and administration to find middle ground.

“The two parties should split the difference and end the strike,” wrote Alex Usher, founder of the consulting firm. “A long strike over a gap this small would be silly.”

Thousands of students are counting on a quick resolution so they can resume studies after repeated interruptions throughout the pandemic.

“It’s very uncertain in terms of what the long-term impacts of this will be (on my program), which is uneasy, unnerving,” said Morgan Stirling, a PhD student in community health sciences, who has been supporting faculty strike efforts via virtual picket.

Students Supporting UMFA is organizing a campus march in solidarity with the faculty association on Friday.

Throughout bargaining, U of M leadership has indicated it aims to conclude an agreement that addresses staffing challenges while supporting quality education, stability in operations, and sustainability.

Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press

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