There appears to be no shortage of labour unrest at the University of Manitoba, where support staff may have their second strike in three years.
U of M support staff represented by Canadian Auto Workers Local 3007 have voted 87 per cent in favour of giving the union a strike mandate. The CAW represents 450 workers, including caretakers, food service workers, groundskeepers, and engineering and skilled-trades people. A strike date has not been set, as negotiations with the university are still on going and monetary issues still need to be discussed.
This seems unsurprising in a year characterized by unpleasant bargaining between the university and its unions. Last summer the administration locked out security staff when negotiations became deadlocked. Faculty members also saw a relatively tiny pay increase when they ratified their collective agreement in late October. University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) president Cameron Morrill told the Winnipeg Free Press the small raise was just a sign of the times, after the university was faced with a $36.4 million budget shortfall for 2010.
A support staff strike may not have the potential of a faculty strike to effectively shut down the university, but the implications should still be taken just as seriously. When support staff went on strike in 2007 for over a week, it limited access to the university and forced fall convocation to be held off campus. It also left non-unionized members filling the jobs left by picketing union members, which is not an easy task with a university of almost 28, 000 students. For example, 14 management staff and 30 students workers were left to do the work of all the university’s food services. This caused frequent long lines at student union operated restaurants and food supplies were quick run out.
Not having happy support staff is more than a simple vexation for those on campus. It impedes the university’s ability to function properly. Hopefully CAW bargaining committee chair Frank Wright’s prediction that a strike will likely not be necessary is correct, and the problems that cropped up in 2007 are not something students and staff will have to contend with.