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UMFA seeking $28 million in damages from province for government’s interference in 2016 labour negotiations, court hears


As the University of Manitoba Faculty Association’s (UMFA) current strike entered its fourth week, lawyers for the union which represent academic staff told a Manitoba judge UMFA members should be awarded $28 million in damages due to the circumstances that preceded the 2016 strike.

Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Joan McKelvey started hearing arguments on the matter Monday in a trial scheduled for two days.

The case is focused on damages UMFA’s lawyers told court faculty members should be awarded because of a Charter breach which protects a right to collective bargaining.

It surrounds the events of five years ago which resulted in a three-week strike, UMFA lawyer Garth Smorang told the court.

In his arguments, Smorang cited previous court findings from a challenge of the province’s Public Sector Sustainability Act and a Manitoba Labour Board decision which ruled the University of Manitoba committed an unfair labour practice by failing to inform UMFA that the university received instructions from the government during contract talks. The university has since apologized and paid members the max penalty of $2,000 each for a total of $2 million.

Smorang told the court in 2016 UMFA had received an offer from the university for a wage increase of 17.5 per cent over four years on the average member’s salary when the government got involved and ordered the university to seek a wage freeze.

UMFA is now seeking $21.8 million, which includes interest, in damages for the wage increases Smorang told the court members would’ve received under that agreement.

“We submit to you the facts of the case as presented to you and your findings, this loss is directly attributable to the government’s substantial interference in the 2016 round of collective bargaining,” Smorang argued.

Smorang told the court UMFA is also seeking damages to cover $2.5 million in strike pay to members in 2016, $177,000 for benefits covered by UMFA during the 2016 strike, $74,000 for the costs of running of the strike as well as $4.1 million in lost salaries incurred by members during the strike that year.

The details of the case are grounded in findings at trial and upheld by the Manitoba Court of Appeal, UMFA’s lawyers told McKelvey.

The Manitoba Court of Appeal ruled last month the government had a right to impose a wage freeze on the public sector but upheld the Court of Queen’s Bench ruling that found the government violated collective bargaining rights during contract talks at the University of Manitoba in 2016.

Smorang told the court government staff members were ordered by the Public Sector Compensation Committee—a committee court heard was made up of six members of cabinet which held meetings former Premier Brian Pallister sometimes attended—to impose the wage freeze.

Lawyers for the province are scheduled to make arguments in the case Tuesday.

The Manitoba government said out of respect for the legal process it won’t be commenting on the 2016 matters that are now before the court. Top Stories

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