As the strike at Brandon University in Brandon, Manitoba, dragged on into its 42nd day, the Manitoba government has ordered that the faculty should vote on the Administration's latest offer.
The Minister of Labour and Immigrationsent the order to the Faculty Union yesterday. The Manitoba Labour Relations Board will conduct the vote, which may happen as early as this Thursday.
Joe Dolecki the president of BUFA (Brandon University Faculty Association) said, "It is a sad day for free collective bargaining in this province." The move is unprecedented. No doubt Howard was under pressure not only from the Conservative opposition but from some within the NDP to do something about the situation. The Conservatives in opposition were asking that the faculty be legislated back to work. The strike is the longest university strike in Manitoba history. Earlier the government had said that it had no intention of intervening.
The NDP government is usually regarded as pro-labor and counts on union support during elections. Dolecki however claimed that while pretending to be neutral the government favored arbitration. The University had agreed to binding arbitration as suggested by a mediator's report. The faculty union preferred to continue negotiations. Arbitration of all issues will be quite costly. Some recent compulsory arbitration has favored administration rather than workers. A good example is the Air Canada arbitration where the workers received less than the company's last offer which almost two-thirds had rejected. At least Howard's move could see the strike end sooner and certainly this would be in the interests of students but her order usurps the authority of the union bargaining committee.
On wages the two sides are not far apart. If that factor alone is considered the faculty might very well vote for the administration proposal. See this link. The faculty union position was: 1st year 1 percent raise, 2nd year 2 percent and third and fourth year 3 percent. This offer was made on Nov. 16 and on the 17 the administration came back with an offer that differed only in that one per cent rather than two per cent was offered in the second year. The government has promised grant increases of 5 per cent each year.
BUFA and the Administration met on Nov 18th to try to settle outstanding issues but after that meeting the administration claimed that the sides had been driven further apart by expensive new demands of the faculty. The new issue concerns pay for the extra teaching load that will be necessary for students to make up time lost during the strike and so finish their terms.
The faculty want partial compensation for that extra workload but according to faculty the administration refuses to pay for that, claiming they cannot afford this additional cost. However the money saved through not paying salaried is much more than these additional costs, I would think.
Administration critics point out that the administration has hired a very high-priced anti-union lawyer to negotiate for them at an estimated cost of almost half a million dollars in fees already. See this discussion. Other critics claim that the local newspaper The Brandon Sun has been biased against the faculty. See this article.
Many in the community just want the dispute to be resolved and are not concerned so much as to who is or is not to blame for the situation. Students have been among those worst hit by the strike. Some want their tuition fees back and a few have simply transferred to other universities.
Here is a list of links: