Message #11 to Our Members Re. COVID-19
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.