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Message #13 to Our Members Re. COVID-19

Thursday, June 25th, 2020

Recently, small numbers of staff have begun returning to the University of Manitoba and additional returns are being considered for early August. The Bannatyne campus has hired screeners who are ensuring that staff and students who are displaying flu-like symptoms are prevented from entering campus buildings and they are working in concert with the nearby HSC protocols for entry to the work site. Research activities have been given priority with respect to returning to campus and specific plans and approvals are necessary for any area looking to commence working at their offices or labs.

At this point in time, AESES does not have any comprehensive details regarding which areas are returning to work nor the specific details of any return to work plan from either University. Earlier this week, we wrote to the Human Resources Departments at both the University of Manitoba and the University of Winnipeg regarding procedures for re-opening. We have many questions and concerns surrounding the safety and wellbeing of AESES members and are asking the universities to provide answers assuring us that appropriate steps are being taken prior to any of our members returning to the workplace.

AESES does anticipate a cautious approach to any re-opening of the universities for the foreseeable future. A full-scale return of staff and students is unlikely without more successful medical interventions in place to manage and contain the coronavirus outbreak. Although Manitoba has done well so far, it is important to recognize that the rate of illness could change within a short period of time. The experience in the U.S. and Brazil are good examples to remind us that this pandemic is not over. We must remain vigilant and follow the advice of our health officials to best protect ourselves and others.

We are seeing that the planning of vacations (or more aptly “staycations”) is becoming a focus for those still working as they try to balance work and time off over the next few months. We strongly encourage our members to take their earned vacation time to de-stress and get rejuvenated. We expect the work environment will continue to be disrupted by the pandemic for many months into the future. Our advice is not to wait until you are feeling overwhelmed, but to start planning for a break from work long before you reach the point of total exhaustion.

To those who are caring for children or elderly parents, work-life balance is even more critical to maintain. Unfortunately, we have already seen members who have struggled to manage under these pressures. Please use the many resources available if you find you are facing difficulties, including the following:

The World Health Organization has numerous resources available for parents:

To end our message on a positive note, the recent legal success of the Partnership to Defend Public Services confirmed our belief that the Pallister government had gone too far and interfered with the charter protected bargaining rights for unions. Although the Government may appeal this decision, it appears clear that the law should continue to be on the side of workers. An additional benefit to the judicial decision is both Ontario and Nova Scotia unions may now gain from our ruling as they are facing similar legislation in their provinces. The success of our case provides an important legal precedent for their pending challenges.

AESES’ Message on Black Lives Matter

Wednesday, June 24th, 2020

We have all seen the news coming from the United States on the Black Lives Matter movement resulting from the tragic death of George Floyd.  This important movement is being observed across the globe in a unified demonstration against racial intolerance.

Unfortunately, discrimination also resides here in Canada, and in Manitoba we are not immune to the many instances of injustice that are portrayed in the news.  Calls for change are heard at the many rallies taking place in cities worldwide, including those held locally, and we are now at an inflection point where change must take place.  Systemic racism must be uncovered in all areas of our society and walls must be torn down allowing every citizen the ability to reach their full potential.

I am horrified by what I have seen in the news and what people of colour, the Indigenous community, people who define themselves as LGBTQS2+, and all others in a minority group have had to endure.  There is so much hurt and harm to overcome.  When will it end?

Maybe the healing can begin when we commit to standing up against racism and all forms of discrimination.  When we refuse to remain silent to the injustices.  When we treat everyone as equal regardless of skin colour, ability, orientation, etc.  When we stop the hate.

AESES stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.  In support of our efforts to break down barriers and encourage diversity within AESES, we have recently created a Diversity Committee and we are looking for members who are interested in joining.  If you would like to volunteer to be part of this important committee please contact the AESES Office at aeses@aeses.ca.

In solidarity,

Laurie Morris
President, AESES

Now Reading: CCU Connections Spring 2020 Newsletter

Friday, June 19th, 2020

The Spring 2020 edition of the newly designed CCU Connections, the news magazine of the Confederation of Canadian Unions, is now online. CCU Executive and the Editorial Board agreed on a new design and format for the magazine. Special thanks to Sean Cain for re-designing and assembling the magazine and to everyone on the editorial board, including Michael Belanger, Dawn Burns, Breanne Whitwell, Ron Richardson and the writers who provided articles.

Download the latest issue from the CCU website: http://www.ccu-csc.ca/spring-2020-edition-of-ccu-connections-now-online

This edition contains the following articles:

  • COVID 19 and the “New Normal” – President Kelly Johnson
  • International Solidarity Report – Dawn Burns
  • Anti-Racism and Black Lives Matter statement
  • COVID 19 Response to Workers’ Rights – Secretary Leanne Shumka
  • Day of Mourning and Health and Safety – Vice President Michael Belanger
  • The Unexpected Warrior – Todd Smith
  • The Future of Union Organizing – Former CCU President Jim Streb
  • Spotlight on regional Vice President Matt Trump
  • Pharmacare for All – Sean Cain
  • Affiliate Reports: Surviving COVID

Reason to Celebrate: PDPS Victory!

Friday, June 12th, 2020

AESES is extremely pleased to share with all of our members that the judge for the trial contesting the constitutionality of the Pallister Government’s Public Services Sustainability Act (PSSA) ruled in favour of the unions.

In a scathing decision, Justice McKelvey stated “I have concluded that the PSSA operates as a draconian measure that has inhibited and dramatically reduced the unions’ bargaining power and violates s. 2(d) associational rights.”

What does this mean for AESES bargaining? The judge’s decision in this case results in the Act being struck down, so it is not in effect and cannot be proclaimed into law. Unfortunately, there’s no way to anticipate the Government’s reaction to this ruling; however, they essentially have three options at this point in time:

  1. They can appeal the decision.
  2. They can introduce a new bill with revised legislation that they think will pass judicial scrutiny.
  3. They can do nothing and accept the ruling.

As for bargaining, we will need to have discussions with our bargaining teams on how to best proceed given this news and we will be scheduling meetings to discuss the impact of the ruling. The Universities will have likely received their mandates from the province, so this is not to say that we’ll see significant monetary gains at the bargaining table. This is further complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the very real possibility of a loss of revenues (particularly from a potential reduction of international students) for post-secondary institutions. Regardless, this decision at least opens the door to having those monetary discussions, where the door was previously slammed shut.

AESES would like to congratulate all of the members of the Myers LLP legal team who worked diligently in preparing and presenting this case. This has been a long road for the unions that coalesced into the Partnership to Defend Public Services, taking over three years to the culmination of this decision…one that sets an important legal precedent for union workers and, especially, those in Manitoba.

The full court decision can be downloaded as a PDF here

Message #12 to Our Members Re. COVID-19

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2020

The University of Manitoba held a meeting with AESES late on Friday to update the union on information they have now received from the Province.  As reported earlier by President Barnard, it appears that the Province has gone forward with a reduction to the operating grant for the UM; however, it is not as draconian of a cut as anticipated given the government had previously asked for scenarios of 10%, 20% and 30% salary savings.

While the reduction to the operating grant is disappointing, the government has also not dictated that these reductions must apply to salaries alone.  The University can find savings from different sources of University operations and they are actively looking for those opportunities.  Additionally, the UM had built a small contingency fund into this year’s budget and they are able to utilize that funding to help minimize the effect of the cut to the operating grant.

Many will have heard in the news that the Province has also established a fund for post-secondary institutions to apply to in order to assist them with fulfilling their mission of teaching as the pandemic continues to present challenges on this front.  This is a pointless shell game that the Province is playing by taking money away with one hand and offering it back with the other.  What purpose does this fulfill other than create further anxiety and uncertainty for public-sector employees?  Regardless, this is somewhat good news from the UM and it appears that mass layoffs or severe cuts to salaries will be avoided.  While we haven’t yet had an update meeting with the University of Winnipeg, we anticipate hearing a similar message from their administration.

We have a few other items we want to touch upon for today’s message.

First, we’ve been hearing from our members, particularly in areas that have experienced layoffs, that other employees are being asked to perform duties normally assigned to their position.  It’s important for everyone to know that during this unprecedented time the University has a higher degree of discretion in how they decide to manage their workforce.  Where there is a reduction in work which has resulted in staff layoffs, the University can assign the work that needs to be completed to the staff that remain in the unit regardless of who would normally perform that work.  The University can also take this opportunity to cross train employees on different responsibilities within the unit for backup purposes.  Although these changes can occur, employees still have the right to expect a manageable workload.  Anyone experiencing difficulties in this regard should contact the AESES Office at aeses@aeses.ca or by phone at 204-949-5200.

Second, we’ve been hearing of areas at the UM where managers are asking members to consider taking unpaid days off under the Vacation Purchase Plan (VPP) with the inference that it will ensure that there are no job losses in the unit.  We wanted to emphasize to our members that this is an entirely voluntary program.  Further, while this is one measure the University is pursuing to deal with the reduced operating grant, it does not offer a guarantee that jobs will be protected from a temporary layoff in those units.

Finally, we’ve been getting a number of emails from our members who have asked if they can support their fellow AESES members by contributing to the COVID-19 Assistance Fund.  While these kind offers are appreciated, all AESES members are already contributing to this fund by virtue of paying union dues.  We are very pleased to report though that UMFA has made a very generous donation of $5,000 for our assistance fund as a way of helping AESES members that have experienced a layoff.  A sincere thank you from AESES to the faculty members at the UM for offering your support.

Extra, Extra: insideAESES Newsletter (June 2020)

Monday, June 1st, 2020

This month’s insideAESES newsletter serves as an addendum to the weekly membership emails that have been arriving in your inboxes, courtesy of the AESES Office. Please take a moment to read a message from AESES President Laurie Morris, an article which outlines effective work-from-home practices for our members who find themselves in that situation, and an update on the contract admin cases we’ve been working on. A full list of your Board of Representatives and Executive Council teams, acclaimed for the next 2-year term, is also included.
Click on the following link to access the newsletter: June 2020 insideAESES newsletter

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Updates: AESES COVID-19 Assistance Fund

Wednesday, May 27th, 2020

Earlier this month, the AESES Board of Representatives made the COVID-19 Assistance Fund available to support AESES members who are experiencing significant financial hardship due to the pandemic.

We have received nearly 100 applications to the fund thus far and, as a result, the COVID-19 Assistance Fund Committee has decided to make some adjustments to ensure we can help as many members as possible for as long as possible. These changes include:

  • An exclusive partnership with Safeway/Sobeys through their bulk gift card program which has provided us with savings that have been rolled back into the fund, thereby allowing more money to be available for our members.
  • With the availability of government benefits and plans such as CERB and CESB, we have reduced the amounts available for successful applicants in an effort to ensure we can continue to help as many members as possible.

The Safeway/Sobeys partnership is already in effect and the reduced amounts will take effect for all applications received after this week’s application deadline of noon on Friday, May 29th. Again, these important changes will allow us to support more members and ensure the longevity of the fund as the province looks to reopen over the summer months.

Only those members who are truly in need of this assistance and who meet the selection criteria should apply.

Some things you should know:

  • All AESES members meeting the eligibility criteria are eligible to apply, regardless of whether they are signed members or not
  • Applications received by noon on each Friday will be processed the following week
  • Assistance will be provided in the form of a gift card which will be mailed to you
  • The monetary amount available will be based on the applicant’s family status and qualified dependants
  • Applicants cannot receive benefit funds more than once in a two-week period

If you continue to be in need of assistance, you will need to submit a new application for each two-week period

The Assistance Fund Committee may take extenuating/exceptional circumstances into consideration.

The COVID-19 Assistance Fund application form can be found here.

Questions about the COVID-19 Assistance Fund can be directed via email to assistance@aeses.ca.

Message #11 to Our Members Re. COVID-19

Friday, May 22nd, 2020

For this week’s update message to our members we are sharing, once again, that we have no new updates from either University with respect to staffing. Our understanding is that the Universities are still awaiting their letters from the Provincial Government detailing the operating grant reductions.

While the Universities can’t be faulted for the Government’s delay, it is nonetheless disappointing that information is not forthcoming that would ease the rising concerns AESES members are feeling from facing the unknown. This is particularly heightened given that the UM has proceeded with temporary layoffs for over 110 AESES positions thus far.

At AESES, we’ve been reflecting more on the last notices that President Barnard at the UM and President Trimbee at the UW sent to their employees. While both advised employees of the announced reductions to the operating grants, the UW went on to say that “To avoid further layoffs, our focus is on non-salary reductions.” While this doesn’t guarantee that at the UW we won’t see any temporary layoffs, it doesn’t appear to be a main consideration at this time.

In a disappointing contrast, the UM indicated that in order to address the additional pressures placed on their budget, “Some of the tools we are considering include:

  • reducing discretionary spending,
  • hiring deferrals,
  • voluntary workweek reductions and
  • layoffs.

This is from a University that saw $127 million in net revenue from operating activities for the 2018-2019 fiscal year (source: University of Manitoba Annual Financial Report 2019). The $17.3 million shortfall in the Provincial operating grant can easily be absorbed by this or by the substantial reserves that exist at the end of each operating year over the past 10 years. Hundreds of millions of dollars are held in reserves currently for capital investment or internally restricted uses. Although renewal is important, it is shocking that more value has been placed on bricks and mortar than hard-working staff delivering high quality programs.

In the current environment of online learning, we are clearly seeing that the University is formed by the students and staff, not the physical spaces that the leaders believe is more critical. Perhaps investing in the people who allowed the University to continue delivering the services to students during a pandemic might supersede the construction of new buildings or major improvements to the physical infrastructure of the University. This is about choices. Failure to support staffing will only result in a drop in standards and will tarnish the desired image of the institution as it loses credibility for years to come.

We should also point out that at the UM, those employed in AESES positions are the primary target for temporary layoffs and our union group is bearing the bulk of the burden of salary savings for the University. By our estimation, the University will have saved approximately $1.9 million after 16 weeks of temporary layoffs, and this does not include any benefits or pension contribution savings that will be realized. Furthermore, no return to work dates have been provided to laid off members which means that these layoffs may be for greater periods of time than originally contemplated. This uncertainty is incredibly stressful and is hardly fair treatment of AESES members at a time when the overall message we are hearing locally and nationally is “we’re in this together.”

As a reminder to all members still working, in particular those working from home, the vast majority of you are paid to work a 6.5 hour day. You are still entitled to your two paid 15-minute breaks each day and a one (1) hour unpaid lunch break even while working remotely. We implore all of you to maintain your regular work hours and not to work beyond that unless you are being properly compensated. An additional concern that has come to our attention is reports from members that they are being asked to split their shift to suit the interests of the unit or department on any given day. A workday should remain intact whether at home or on campus. Anyone who is having difficulties with unrealistic work expectations and directives should contact the AESES Office at aeses@aeses.ca or 204-949-5200. Work-life balance is even more important since, for most of us, both are happening in our homes.

Finally, we have received a number of calls and emails about the recent announcement that the Provincial Government is looking at imposing 5 days off without pay to public-sector employees. According to the article we’ve seen on this (from CBC Manitoba), this will affect approximately 6,250 civil servants within core government departments. While there is the ability to voluntarily take days off without pay at each University, it is unlikely that this specific measure by the Province will include AESES members at either University.

Message #10 to Our Members Re. COVID-19

Wednesday, May 13th, 2020

As the waiting continues for our members to hear what possible actions the Universities may take with regard to potential staffing cuts, the Provincial Government has now decided that there is no hurry to issue formal instructions to both Universities, after forcing them to provide their salary savings scenarios in an unreasonably short time frame. This continues to provide further evidence of this Government’s lack of respect for unionized public-sector workers and is an attack on these fairly paid, high-quality workers. This behaviour is irresponsible during normal times and under the current circumstances undermines the contribution our members make to the thousands of students who benefit from the valuable work you deliver daily. Your compensation is not a line on a balance sheet, it is an investment in the next generation of leaders in our province.

Despite the delays, the response from the University of Winnipeg has been reasonable and over several conversations has provided as much guidance as can be practically expected under these difficult circumstances. Conversely, communication has been disappointing from the University of Manitoba as their response to the Province was sent over three weeks ago and, to date, no substantial details have been shared with AESES.

As we reported earlier, AESES conferred with our legal counsel with respect to the temporary layoffs that are taking place at the University of Manitoba. We disagree with the University’s interpretation of the Collective Agreement with respect to how these layoffs are being implemented. As a result, we have filed an Association Grievance challenging the University’s actions. This is at the first stage of the grievance process and we will report further as this matter proceeds.

During all of this, our members have continued to provide excellent service to the Universities to ensure that operations continue to run as smoothly as possible. They are working from their homes primarily, and in many cases are required to also juggle child care, home schooling and, for some, supporting family members that have had their work reduced or eliminated as a result of these challenging times.

It has come to our attention that a number of members feel they are expected to constantly monitor their emails and phone messages beyond the normal hours for their work day. We have also heard of occasions where communications, including text messages, are being sent after hours or on weekends by supervisors and managers. While excluded managers may be subject to different work expectations and may feel that the clock is never turned off, AESES members are not part of this 24/7 work regime. This belief needs to stop as it has the very real potential of leading to unhealthy outcomes for too many of our members. The stress being felt by many from all of the changes that are taking place at work, at home and in society is already evident in the substantial number of communications AESES has received from our members who have concerns or who are struggling to manage.

After significant discussion within our leadership group, AESES is asking that members refrain from performing unpaid work in their units and ensure that they maintain a work-life balance that is reasonable. This includes taking their full lunch and work breaks and not responding to phones and emails after normal working hours unless formal standby is required and paid for. This also means that either overtime is approved to work beyond your normal hours in order to complete necessary tasks, or work that is deemed not important is left to another work day. Additionally, shift schedules are not to be flexed by managers nor should schedules be changed without proper notice in all cases. We appreciate that our members are dedicated to their work, their departments and the students. However, these are challenging circumstances and looking after your well-being and good mental health is vitally important. Managing workloads and expectations in units is necessary for the protection of everyone.

Please take the time to reach out to a co-worker or friend and make sure they are doing okay. A small gesture can serve as a breath of fresh air for struggling individuals. Our physical distancing does not have to lead to self-isolation.

Message #9 to Our Members Re. COVID-19

Wednesday, May 6th, 2020

As we continue to await word from the Universities regarding the response from the Provincial Government to their salary reduction submissions, we thought we would share some comments that our Board of Representatives and labour relations team are hearing from you, our members.

First, an update for our UM members. The University has begun the process of issuing temporary layoffs to employees in units where they have determined that there is no work possible, either onsite or from home. As of this morning, AESES is now aware of over 50 positions receiving temporary layoff notices in a number of areas, primarily Kinesiology & Recreation Management, Marketing Communications Office, the Book Store and a few smaller areas. AESES disagrees with the University’s interpretation of the Collective Agreement provisions and their process of implementing these layoffs, and we are exploring options with our legal counsel to formally challenge their actions.

At the UW, our Collective Agreement doesn’t have a clause dealing with temporary layoffs, so they are more constrained in their ability to take similar action. However, at both institutions they have chosen to not schedule any further hours for those part-time employees in variable hour positions where units have closed. These members should have received their Records of Employment in order to apply for EI or the federal government’s CERB program.

However, the main reason for our communication today is to relay to you the two main themes that we’re hearing from members that are of significant concern. One surrounds the workload issues that are arising and the other deals with the well-being of our members.

Workload: We have been receiving a significant increase in emails and phone calls from members indicating that they are struggling to keep up with the volume of work they are required to perform. While working from home has its benefits (the commute can’t be beat!), it also raises many challenges and often a quick task done at the office now takes two or three times longer to accomplish. You may not have all of the same programs or equipment from home and physical files are more than likely still at the workplace.

AESES members are amazingly dedicated employees who work hard to meet deadlines, produce quality work, help students and assist faculty and other staff in getting their work done.  It’s far too easy, particularly while working from home, to start your day early, work through breaks and take shortened lunch hours just to get the voluminous amount of work you have on your plate done. While employees can typically handle the stress of this increased productivity for a short period of time, the continued strain on an individual of maintaining this pace over time is leading to extreme burnout in many.

We want to emphasize to our members that most of you are being paid to work a 7 hour day, and pushing yourself to work extra hours, particularly where you’re not being compensated for that extra time, is only hurting yourself. If you’re unable to get work done or meet deadlines, it’s incumbent on you to let your supervisor know. It will then be up to your supervisor to determine what takes priority or what will need to be postponed. A supervisor should NOT be responding with “it all needs to be done so figure it out”. If any member is having difficulty with their supervisor, please contact the AESES office for assistance.

Well-being:  We’re hearing from far too many of our members that they are seriously struggling with the stress of their work situation and the anxiety of not knowing if they’re being targeted for a potential layoff. Even those who are busier than ever due to the increased enrolments are fearful that they will be temporarily reduced or laid off. Unfortunately, the Universities have done little to allay these fears.

We’ve talked to many members in recent days who are near their breaking point and are in need of immediate medical assistance. Members should not avoid dealing with their mental health and physical well-being before it becomes a crisis situation, especially during this pandemic. Sometimes connecting with a counsellor through EFAP is sufficient and is a good preventive step to take. In other cases, being in a continued state of stress leads to adverse physical symptoms and disorders. This is where it’s most important that you talk to your family doctor and seek medical care. Where employees are experiencing a legitimate medical situation that necessitates time off from work, most are entitled to paid sick leave. If you’re in this situation and would like to seek confidential assistance from the AESES office, please contact us at aeses@aeses.ca or call 204-949-5200.

AESES is continuing to stand with our members and is committed to providing the necessary resources to the substantial challenges everyone is facing.  As a reminder, we recently announced the COVID-19 Assistance Fund for those experiencing extreme financial hardship due to loss of work resulting from COVID-19 closures.  Information on the fund can be found on our website at www.aeses.ca.

Stay safe & stay well.

Did you know

AESES is affiliated with the Confederation of Canadian Unions (CCU).

AESES' Charter Meeting was held in December of 1972.

We offer scholarships for AESES dependants at both universities.

Anyone can attend a Board meeting by calling the AESES Business Office prior to the meeting and confirming their attendance.

AESES requires new volunteers for various committees. Please contact the Business Office if you are an AESES member interested in joining one of our committees.