U of M faculty hits the picket line Tuesday

More than a thousand faculty members at the province's largest post-secondary institution hit the picket line Tuesday.

Staff were set up at the university entrances, intermittently blocking traffic and handing out leaflets outlining their demands for the university.  

The strike comes after months of negotiations between the University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) and university administration.

They say U of M wages are ranked near the bottom of comparable universities in the country.

"We need to be able to recruit and maintain our faculty members and to be able to do that and stay competitive against other Canadian universities we need to have competitive salary offers," said Orvie Dingwall, president of the UFMA.

The university administration said it believes it has offered a fair deal.

"We feel we did put a fair offer on the table that provides benefit to not just current members, but also puts in a much stronger place to recruit faculty when positions open up," said Michael Benarroch, president and  vice-chancellor of U of M.

The strike means many classes and labs are paused, with professors also taking online course work down, which students say puts them in a difficult situation.

"It's hopefully not going to delay my degree but definitely my term. But again, in full support," said student Sarah Bahunicky.

Bahunicky is not the only student with concerns.

"It will definitely contribute, just sort of that added stress of not knowing when we'll be back and then how pushed back our exams are going to be," said Ivan Tsang, another student.

"Not having classes is hard,” said a third student, Tabata Bravo. “Having classes online is hard, but trying to learn all by yourself is even harder."

With students caught in the middle, the administration said it is keen to end the strike.

The university's president hopes faculty members will warm up to the current offer.

"Over the next few days as people come to understand it better, because it is complex, we can get back to the table and begin to talk again about some of the positives that have happened through this," said Benarroch

Getting back to the bargaining table soon is something the faculty association also hopes to do.

"We sure hope we can get a deal as soon as possible, but we have committed members who are willing to stand up and defend an independent university," said Dingwall.

Until a deal is made, staff will be set up on campus from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday.

The faculty association says a virtual picket line is also in the works.

The university is encouraging students to check which of their courses are still going on.