So What Happened to "Free Collective Bargaining" in Manitoba?

by Errol Black

On Saturday, November 19, 2011, a Brandon Sun headline read:

Well apparently they were wrong.

Labour and Immigration Minister Jennifer Howard’s decision to force striking faculty members to vote on the university’s “last offer” came as a surprise to everyone this morning.   Only a few days ago her colleague Erin Selby, the Minister of Advanced Education, was quoted by the Brandon Sun as saying “this is a difficult time for students and their families…We understand their frustration. They want to be back in the classroom. We want to see students back in the classroom as well. The best way for this to come to a resolution would be for both sides to continue negotiation. That’s the best resolution that we can see…”

Drew Caldwell, MLA Brandon East, took the same position, stating his support for his government’s stance in favour of collective bargaining… “The principle of free collective bargaining is very important in a civil society and we as a government have been providing conciliation, mediation and urging the parties to come to an agreement…”

On Tuesday November 22, 2011, Brandon woke up to a very different headline:

In a letter to Brandon University President Deborah Poff and BUFA president Joe Dolecki, Minister Howard wrote “I have reviewed the circumstances of the dispute and the negative effect of the work stoppage on the students of Brandon University and the city of Brandon… I am of the opinion that a vote of the employees in (BUFA) to accept or reject the last offer of the employer, respecting all matters remaining in dispute between the parties, is in the public interest.”

So what happened between November 19 to November 21 to cause the government to so drastically change their position?

With the benefit of hindsight it appears that the decision was not as drastic as it would appear.  The government seems to have been working on a strategy to force an end to the strike for the past few weeks.

In previous blogs we reported that Brandon University’s Board and Administration and their lawyer, Grant Mitchell, have been seeking to undermine BUFA by stalling the collective bargaining process and forcing the outstanding issues to binding arbitration.

On October 12, the University asked for the appointment of a conciliator. A conciliator was appointed, but because of the University’s reluctance to negotiate, the effort was abandoned on October 21 (an outcome confirmed by the Minister of Labour in response to a question raised during Question Period on November 1).

BUFA then requested the appointment of a mediator. The Minister appointed Michael Werier, who on November 9th reported to the Minister that attempts at mediation had failed. In his report, Werier indicated that he had accepted the University’s argument and recommended that outstanding issues go to binding arbitration. The Minister recommended to the parties that they accept Werier’s recommendation. The University accepted, not surprising since this was the outcome they wanted from the onset. BUFA declined, stating that they would seek to secure an agreement through collective bargaining.

Members of Cabinet also liked the idea of having the matter go to arbitration. On November 9, Premier Selinger told a Winnipeg radio talk show host that the government would like the association [BUFA] to consider binding arbitration to help resolve the situation. And in the November,19 story in which Erin Selby said the province would stay out of the dispute, she let slip that she thought “[t]he best thing would be for both parties to agree to go to arbitration.”

The employer’s final offer will now go to a Manitoba Labour Board supervised vote of the BUFA membership – which could be as early as Thursday.

If it turns out that the BUFA membership rejects the employer’s offer, the Minister has signaled that she will clear the way for quick approval of a request for binding arbitration that will be made by Grant Mitchell on December 12.

This is a sad and unnecessary ending to a sad situation. It could have been avoided if the government had respected the institution of free collective bargaining and forced the employer to accept the fact that there would be no intervention to force a settlement through binding arbitration. Progress was being made. The difference on wages was reduced to $220,000 over a four-year agreement. Although the University backed down on an earlier agreement to follow the back to work protocol used in the 2008 strike, progress was being made on this outstanding issue as well.

As stated by BUFA president Joe Dolecki ““It is a sad day for free collective bargaining in this province”.

Errol Black is a CCPA Board member.

9 Comments

Filed under Brandon, collective bargaining, education, Labour, media

9 responses to “So What Happened to "Free Collective Bargaining" in Manitoba?

  1. Wow. This is outrageous behaviour for an NDP government. A very disappointing,unnecessary decision that will have far reaching implications for workers in Manitoba. Shame on Minister Howard.

  2. A two hour negotiation was all that was needed to settle the remaining outstanding issues. The Government has delayed a potential settlement by 10 days to 2 weeks, the time to conduct this vote. Has the entire world gone nuts?

  3. The truly sad thing is that the parties were close to reaching an agreement when the Minister intervened. BUFA members could have been back to work within a day. Now, any settlement has been delayed for a minimum of 10 days if BUFA members vote to accept the final offer (by no means certain) and for at least 20 days if it goes to arbitration. WAY TO GO NDP!

  4. I suspect they will be required to keep voting till they get it right!!

  5. this is not " Free collective Bargaining" when 3000+ students are being held hostages by 240 people, you had all summer for you " Free collective Bargaining" and yet you started striking in october, 6 month after you " Free collective Bragaining" started

  6. I would hope that the poster of 'not Free collective Bargaining"' has now been able to read an 'objective' analysis by Deveryn Ross of the critical factors contributing to the Brandon University strike..I say 'objective' with some comfort as the position of Ross, supported by facts that he now puts forth, is certainly not the one he subscribed to in October.But I do admire his effort to seek out the facts and courage to now, by his article, make sure that the facts get reported..Is it possible that where 'courage' leads others will follow?? BOG take note!

  7. From Joe Dolecki " Simply stated: We won this strike " I hope this guy was joking when he said this. The profs might have got what they wanted, but in 5 years this university will be no more beause over the next 5 years the enrollment will sink instead of rising and it will be a private university.

  8. How does forcing a strike vote equal forcing BUFA back to work? I have heard from reliable sources that any BUFA member who asked for another vote at BUFA membership meetings was completely ignored by the BUFA executive. Is the job of a union executive not to represent the union members? How can any leader claim to truly represent the membership of an organization unless they listen to the members? In my opinion, BUFA should have conducted their own vote before the province had to force them to listen to their members. This is not the first time BUFA has failed to be democratic. Right from the start, the BUFA membership was threatened with the resignation of their chief negotiator if they didn't vote "Yes" to a strike. They were told that they would then have to take whatever BU gave them. This was a blatant attempt to influence the voting process, and would not be allowed in a truly democratic system. If the vote had been "No," BUFA would have been down a bargaining tool, but could still have continued to negotiate. (By the way, there were also repeated statements that they 'did not want' to go on strike, yet it was not the last resort. If striking was truly a last resort, they would have had conciliation and mediation first.)Never mind the fact that us students have been almost completely disregarded during this whole thing by both sides, except for a few meaningless "apologies." I say, way to go NDP, for giving BUFA membership a voice and for trying to bring the strike to an end quickly so students can receive the education we paid for. It seems that many people, from BU to CAUT and various faculty associations, have forgotten that the students are the ones who have truly suffered, and will continue to do so for the rest of the year!

  9. "I have heard from reliable sources that any BUFA member who asked for another vote at BUFA membership meetings was completely ignored by the BUFA executive."I was at the meetings (and am not on the Executive). There were in fact several meetings where members asked questions and the executive sought feedback. They did not have to hold these meetings – as the democratic Strike mandate, meant (by law) that they were empowered to negotiate on our behalf. But they did so repeatedly … and repeatedly the membership gave them the mandate to continue with the strike. Not everyone – but a large majority of those in attendance (and attendance was large.)As someone at the meetings, I can say, the union worked hard to keep the members informed and constantly polled people both in meetings and on the picket line. You "may have heard" of some people wanting to go back, but I was there and the union had a strong democratic mandate to continue to seek a negotiated settlement instead of being forced into binding arbitration and a dangerous, incomplete, "final offer" that offed members no protection in the form of an agreed upon back to work protocol.

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