Government’s Directives is No Excuse: Labour rights prevail

By Janet Morrill

First published in the Winnipeg Free Press February 9, 2018

On January 29, 2018, the Manitoba Labour Board issued its ruling in favour of the University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) in the unfair labour practice (ULP) filed against the University of Manitoba (UM) in connection with a round of collective bargaining that included a three-week strike.
In 2016 the UM administration’s negotiating team took its salary offer off the bargaining table just days before a strike deadline, setting the stage for the strike. Saying that the Pallister government had pressed them to do so, they claimed they had done everything they could to persuade the government to change course. Refusing to accept that there was no alternative, and knowing how important wages were to their members, UMFA decided to make the best of a bad situation and put the question of salary to the Manitoba Labour Board while simultaneously attempting to make other gains at the bargaining table. Those attempts failed, and UMFA members walked the picket lines for 21 days, appreciating the solidarity of many sisters and brothers of the labour movement and faculty associations from around the country who joined us.
It was a divisive, harmful, costly and unnecessary strike.  It caused distress for students, parents, and employees, who did not know how long the strike would last.  UMFA members lost three weeks of wages, and their right to collectively bargain a long overdue wage increase.  After the strike, those members made up for the lost weeks of teaching, even giving extra exams to accommodate students, all without compensation.
This week, the Labour Board found that the UM administration acted in bad faith by failing to tell UMFA about salary discussions with government. They have ordered that the administration apologize and pay up to $2.4 million dollars in fines for violating the rights of its workers. These fines are to be paid directly to UMFA Members. UMFA will push for the maximum fine allowed by law, $2,000 per member.
While this is good news, there are several disturbing things that were made clear during the Labour Board hearings and in the final decision.
First, the government’s concern was less about spending at the University, and more about how UMFA’s negotiations would affect the rest of the public sector. If UMFA made gains, others would also expect to see gains, causing problems for a government claiming it was facing a financial crisis that required spending cuts. Further, according to the testimony of the University’s Assistant VP of Human Resources, the Provincial government appeared to actually invite a strike.
Second, the University was more concerned with its relationships with donors to the University than it was with following the law and resisting the government’s intervention in collective bargaining.  While the UM administration repeatedly said they had done everything to dissuade the government from demanding a 0% wage increase, the Labour Board concluded the administration did no such thing. Instead, in its communications with government the administration demonstrated its primary concern was protecting the University’s legal position and its reputation in the community – otherwise put, it was more concerned with public relations than resisting the government’s intervention.
Third, the government demanded that their directive be kept secret, and the University complied until the last moment. This was central to the Labour Board’s decision: the University knew of the government’s mandate and had a duty to tell UMFA about it. The Board went so far as to say that waiting over 20 days  before informing UMFA was an act of misrepresentation and a violation of the duty to bargain in good faith. This is the basis for the fines and the apology. “The direction from government officials not to share the information with the Faculty Association does not constitute a viable defense”, the Board wrote.
The ruling sends a message to other universities facing pressure from their provincial governments: they still have a legal and moral duty to bargain in good faith, protect their employees, and be transparent with those employees in bargaining.  Hopefully it also sends a specific message to the U of M administration, who has now had three unfair labour practice rulings against them in the last ten years: treat workers fairly.  Unfortunately, their press release notes that the university “respectfully disagrees” with the Labour Board finding, believes it bargained in good faith, and is considering its options.  It may be impossible, or at least will take a very long time, to arrive at a point where the memory of the administration’s actions do not affect UMFA’s relationship with the employer, with associated monetary and non-monetary implications.
It is important to keep in mind that the conservative government’s actions were a prelude to Bill 28, the “Public Services Sustainability Act”, which threatens claw-backs to any wage increases in the public sector that go above  0%, 0%, 0.75%, and 1% in a four-year period. Contrary to claims they wanted to consult with labour about how to deal with the province’s fiscal situation, the government’s actions in October 2016 suggest that they had already decided what they would do: make gains on the backs of workers. A coalition representing more than 100,000 public service workers in Manitoba therefore holds that Bill 28 is unconstitutional.  UMFA is one of the more than 25 labour bodies in the Partnership to Defend Public Services, which has launched a legal challenge that seeks to turn back the legislation.
The Labour movement is strong, cohesive, and increasingly mobilized in Manitoba.  The support from other unions, faculty associations, and the Canadian Association of University Teachers provided incredibly important moral and financial support to UMFA’s fight.  While the constitutional challenge may take years, a more formidable and timely force against the austerity-obsessed Pallister government will be voters at the polls.

Manitobans should question whether all of these budget cuts and wage freezes are necessary, and whether it works when workers’ paycheques shrink or disappear altogether, when money is diverted to legal challenges, and the incalculable costs incurred by impaired employee-employer relationships.  And voters must question the integrity of a government that passes unconstitutional legislation and undermines the law by pressuring an employer to commit an unfair labour practice.


Labour and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms: 35 years of experience

By Paul Moist and Garth Smorang

In April 1982 the Constitution Act was proclaimed. It included the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Charter protects Canadians’ political and civil rights. It enumerates a range of fundamental freedoms, including freedom of association, religion and the press. It also guarantees certain democratic rights, such as the right to vote, mobility rights, legal, equality and language rights.
All laws passed must respect these rights, the only limitation being that set out in Section 1 of the Charter, which stipulates that all these rights and freedoms “…are subject to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”
The early years of the Charter coincided with economic challenges in Canada, and legislative attacks on trade union rights.  Workers looked to the Charter for protection, in particular to the rights to freedom of association (section 2 d), freedom of life, liberty and security of the person (section 7), and equal treatment before the law (section 15).
In 1987 three Supreme Court decisions, known as the labour trilogy—involving  the right to strike, opposition to legislated wage controls, and back to work legislation—went  against labour, and the Charter was widely viewed as hostile to collective worker rights.
This trend continued until 2007 when the BC Health Services decision overturned a provision of BC legislation that had unilaterally amended freely negotiated collective agreements.
A coalition of BC health care unions successfully established through a legal challenge that the Charter’s freedom of association and equality provisions prohibited such legislation.  The Supreme Court decision affirmed the primacy of collective bargaining on workplace issues, and the validity of freely negotiated collective agreements.
The court applied a two-fold test: the importance of rights that the legislation removed; and the manner in which the legislation was adopted.
BC Health Services was a major victory for labour.  It affirmed the constitutional right to engage in bargaining, and to expect respect for provisions bargained.
Since BC Health Services in 2007 there have been further important Supreme Court decisions.
One involved the court striking down as unconstitutional, laws that prevented RCMP officers from unionizing. A second struck down Saskatchewan public sector essential services legislation, which effectively prevented union members from striking.
These were additional victories for Canada’s labour movement, because they affirmed the constitutional right to join a union and the right to strike, and to have a fair process to achieve a collective agreement.
Most recently, in 2016, after over a decade of legal dispute, the Supreme Court struck down BC legislation that had altered provisions of teachers’ collective agreements, and prohibited bargaining on class size.
Building upon the BC Health Services decision, the Court reaffirmed the obligation of governments, prior to acting unilaterally to change a contract, to give unions the opportunity to influence changes through consultation and collective bargaining.
The Supreme Court has not guaranteed workers any particular result.  But it has affirmed the right of workers to engage in meaningful collective bargaining, and it has struck down heavy-handed actions of governments that have not consulted or engaged in such bargaining.
Manitoba may be the next jurisdiction to end up before the Supreme Court, regarding the provincial Conservative government’s adoption of Bill 28, The Public Services Sustainability Act.
Bill 28, which has yet to be proclaimed, legislates four year deals with 0%; 0%; 0.5% and 1% wage adjustments.  It is patterned after similar legislation introduced in Nova Scotia in 2015, which is also the subject of a legal challenge.
There was no meaningful consultation with Manitoba labour prior to the enactment of Bill 28, nor was this something the Conservatives campaigned on in the 2016 election.
Of note is that the MFL contracted with the former head of the University of Manitoba’s Asper Business School. He presented evidence that the provincial economy was not in freefall, and in fact the Province’s finances would be back in balance within the eight year time frame that government themselves had talked of in the election campaign.  In short, there was no financial crisis.
The Partnership to Defend Public Services, formed by the MFL, has launched a constitutional challenge to Bill 28.  The coalition argues that collective bargaining rights are charter-protected, and they are being violated by the provincial Conservative government.
Because Charter challenges can take years to resolve, six of the 28 plaintiff unions have filed an application for an injunction, asking the court to prohibit the government from proclaiming the Act into force, at least until its constitutional validity can be determined by the courts. The injunction will be heard by the Court of Queen’s Bench in May 2018.
The six unions have agreed that any negotiated increases to wages or benefits will be held in abeyance pending the result of the constitutional challenge.
It remains to be seen if Manitoba’s Bill 28 will result in further rulings by the Supreme Court. What is clear, however, is that 35 years into the Charter era, labour rights in Canada are dynamic and ever evolving.

This article prepared by Paul Moist,  CCPA-MB Research Associate and Chair of the EBC on Labour Issues from the notes of Garth Smorang was the keynote speaker at the annual Errol Black Chair in Labour Issues Brunch, November 28, 2017. Smorang, along with a team from Myers Weinberg LLP, are counsel for the MFL-led coalition of unions that is leading the legal challenge to Bill 28, The Public Services Sustainability Act, which attacks free collective bargaining rights.
Manitoba workers have banded together to challenge this latest attack on their collective bargaining rights.  Their efforts will not only support Manitoba workers, but those of all Canadians as well.

Public housing plays an essential role in Manitoba’s housing system

By Sara Cooper

Public housing plays an essential role in Manitoba’s housing system. It provides a specific form of housing: housing that has been removed from the market by focusing on its use as a home, rather than on its potential for financial gain, in order to make it affordable to low-income households. Across Canada, public housing has provided good quality, affordable housing for decades.  READ FULL REPORT
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Community Economic Development in Manitoba and the Inclusive Economy

By Sara Wray Enns

Manitoba is a province of economic growth and economic disparity. It is a province with low unemployment rates, diverse development and incredible resource wealth. On the flip side, Manitoba has continuously had some of the highest child poverty rates in Canada, the highest homicide rates, and Winnipeg has been called the most racist city in Canada. This paradox of development and disparity is not without hope. In Manitoba there is also a rich set of grassroots organizations intent on tackling poverty, racism, crime and disparity. Read More

Report outlines the implications of P3-giant Carillion’s collapse on Manitoba’s economy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE January 22, 2018: The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives MB will release its report The Collapse of P3 Giant Carillion and Its Implications on Wednesday, January 24th, at the office of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, 703 275 Broadway at 11 a.m. Read More

Health Care Blind Spot

By Jim Silver

Manitoba’s health care system is undergoing major changes. Many Manitobans fear that the changes are more about saving money than improving health, and that privatization of parts of the health care system may be a slippery slope towards the erosion of our treasured single-payer public health care system. Read More

New CED Documentary Screening Tuesday Jan 23

CCEDNET-MB, CCPA-MB, The Manitoba Research Alliance and Rebel Sky Media present:

The Inclusive Economy

Stories of Community Economic Development in Manitoba

Tuesday, Jan 23 at Cinematheque, 100 Arthur St. Winnipeg

Doors open at 6:30, movie at 7 pm

Discussion at 7:30

Free event

Watch movie trailer

Low income Manitoban’s falling behind in 2018

By Josh Brandon

As we roll into 2018, low income Manitobans are falling further behind. While minimum wage in Ontario went up on January 1 to $14 per hour, in Manitoba it is stuck at a poverty level of $11.15 per hour. This leaves minimum wage workers up to $5,700 per year behind their Ontario counterparts. Here, a single parent with one child earns as much as $7,000 below the poverty line. Manitoba has now fallen to 8th among provinces and territories in minimum wage. Read More

Call for Papers 1919 Winnipeg General Strike Centenary Conference May 9 – 11, 2019

1. Presentation Title
2. A 100-150-word outline of the presentation.
3. A 100-150-word biography. These must include (if applicable) a list of publications, activities, and a list of
positions (paid and/or voluntary) relevant to this event. This information is essential to assisting the
organizers in soliciting funding to support travel and other workshop costs.
Please email these materials as an attachment in Word format to the program committee at:
For more information about conference themes and to keep up with our ongoing plans, please visit:

THE WINNIPEG GENERAL STRIKE OF 1919 was a landmark moment in North American working-class history. In May and June that year, over 30,000 workers ceased work for six weeks. Provoked by the inequities of industrial capitalism, the authoritarianism of their workplaces, the brutal experiences of the First World War, rising prices and stagnating wages, an insecure economic outlook, intransigent employers, and a federal state that responded to their demands with growing repression, the city’s workers stood together in an astounding display of unity. This was also an era filled with hope; the horrors of industrialization and militarism encouraged many to think of ways of constructing a better world. The combination of anger and hope was infectious. In 1919, Winnipeg workers displayed an inspiring unity, facing hunger, threats of permanent dismissal and blacklisting, and violence at the hands of authorities, most notably in the vicious assault they unleashed on “Bloody Saturday,” killing two workers and injuring many more.

Just as workers in 1919 sought to lift themselves and their communities out of poverty and win a fairer share of the fruits of economic growth, 21st-century workers are facing worsening material conditions: stagnating wages and increasing precarious employment, along with cuts to social services that increase demands upon working-class families. The “Fight for 15,” struggles for family supports such as child care, and the rise of antipoverty movements are at the forefront of today’s organizing, reflecting the ways in which neoliberalism has forced the fight for a living wage and a working-class economic security onto centre stage.
A century ago, Winnipeg was a divided city – not only along the lines of class, but workers were, themselves, divided along lines of race and ethnicity. A capitalist labour market pitted “British Canadian” and “immigrant” workers against each other; the First World War heightened fears of the “foreigners,” and the economic insecurity that faced returning soldiers at the end of the war led, on occasion, to confrontations on the streets of Winnipeg. Amazingly, attempts by employers to use bigotry to divide the city’s strikers failed. Today, governments and businesses use international borders, an exclusionary “citizenship” which often denies workers from abroad a range of social and labour rights, and post 9/11 xenophobia, to ensure their control over labour. The lessons of overcoming these divisions and fighting for common, expanded rights, are as central today as they were then, and include a growing understanding of the rights of Indigenous people as First Peoples and as workers.
The Winnipeg General Strike was part of a continent-wide, even an international, labour revolt that saw unions, mass strikes and working-class parties act in their own name. In Winnipeg, despite the defeat of the strike, socialist and labour parties continued the fight by other means. This was an era in which labour was the voice of the dispossessed; if there was a solution to the problems that capitalism brought, it was represented by labour. In the 21st century, a wide range of social movements address issues that were often unimagined a century ago. Building an effective response to a wide range of assaults on the environment, and in defence of Indigenous rights, gender rights, on the rights of the disabled, and so much more, requires education, organizing, and mobilization. To what extent are these class issues that labour needs to centrally address? Can labour lead in building a better world in which all forms of oppression and exploitation are fought?
These are all broad themes, but the Winnipeg General Strike, although provoked by specific issues of collective bargaining, exploded into a broader revolt because it spoke to much broader issues, provided a voice to the dispossessed, and raised the question of whether labour had the answers. This conference hopes to tie the past and the present together by examining these three themes in their historical and contemporary context.
We invite a range of scholars, trade unionists, and social activists to share their knowledge and experiences. We envisage presentations and discussions by historians, labour studies scholars, and unionists about the General Strike, the subsequent history of labour’s attempts to address these themes, as well as contemporary struggles. We invite public historians to engage in discussions of the manner in which this history has been shared, how to best engage with a wider audience. What part can teachers play in including an understanding of workers’ history, including the Strike, at all levels of education? Finally, the conference will include roundtable discussions, led by activists, of the three themes listed above.
We call, then, for proposals for individual presentations, panels, and roundtables that address the themes of the conference. The organizers are presently exploring funding opportunities to help offset travel costs and other costs associated with conference attendance. It is hoped – though not guaranteed – that some of the costs of participation may be covered.

Applying a Rural and Remote Lens to the KPMG Review

By Lonnie Patterson

There has been much discussion and analysis of the KPMG Manitoba Fiscal Performance Review recently released by the provincial government. However, the potential impacts that will occur in rural and remote Manitoba communities, if some of the review’s recommendations are implemented, have not yet been part of the dialogue. The review itself fails to recognize the realities of delivering public services across our province’s vast geography and into places with low population densities. As the review characterizes it, there are “areas of opportunity to bend the cost curve” across government, some of them directly related to delivering services to rural and remote Manitobans. In this piece, I will highlight some policy recommendations that require much more analysis, with a specific focus on how rural and remote Manitoba could be impacted. Read More