Of the four workers unions active on the University of Winnipeg (U of W) campus right now, three have collective agreements that will end in the next few years.
Currently, Public Service Alliance Canada (PSAC), is entering into negotiations with the U of W on behalf of research assistant employees. They will bargain with the higher-ups at the university for better working conditions, pay and rights, among other things, when their previous work contract has run its course.
Dale Riverton, a retired facility supervisor for the City of Winnipeg, says that labor unions exist to give workers a fighting chance against larger organizations.
“It’s tough to speak up for yourself and your rights if you’re on your own. (Unions) allow the employees to get together and stand up for themselves whenever they feel like they’re not being treated fairly,” Riverton says.
The U of W has agreements with Association of Employees Supporting Education Services (ESES), International Union of Operating Engineers Local 987 (IUOE), the University of Winnipeg Faculty Association (UWFA) and PSAC.
The UWFA represents the instructors, librarians and any contract worker that wants to teach at the university. They signed their collective agreement, the negotiated document that details the rights, wages and benefits of the employees, last year. They will re-negotiate those terms in 2020.
While these negotiations are an important part of their instructors’ lives, many students have no idea about the unions on campus.
Christopher Torres, a first-year cultural studies student, says that he doesn’t link union issues with his own studies.
“Yeah, it’s not really something I think about. I’m just focused on getting to class and hanging out with my friends … I understand why it’s important, but I don’t see how it affects me,” Torres says.
On the other hand, Alicia Kuhn, a second-year kinesiology student, says she’s concerned about the U of W’s union negotiations.
“I’m actually nervous. I have a few friends who go to the (University of Manitoba), and everything got pushed back because of that teacher’s strike. I wouldn’t want something like that happening here … I want my teachers to be paid a fair wage,” Kuhn says.
Last November at the University of Manitoba, over 1,000 faculty members went on strike after failing to negotiate a collective agreement. The strike lasted for three weeks, until the university accepted a one-year contract, which expired in March of this year.
According to Kuhn, her friends had to study and prepare for tests over their Christmas break, and they never got a chance to catch their breath before school started up again in January.
Two of the unions, PSAC and IOUE, have agreements that expire in less than a year.