Students concerned about the potential strike’s impact on their studies

By Jura McIlraith

Some Red River College Polytechnic students are feeling anxious about the end of the winter term knowing their instructors may strike as early as April 11. 

Members of the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union (MGEU) voted in favour of strike action on March 22. The union has not disclosed how many of its members were in favour of the vote, but called it a “strong” strike mandate. 

Despite weeks having passed since the vote, some RRC Polytech students are saying they either only recently became aware of the potential strike or had not been paying it much attention.

“When you’re in the middle of an intense program, or school in general, it’s easy to get put in your bubble,” said Blake Stucky, a second-year Creative Communications student. “You don’t really notice those kind of things around you.” 

Stucky, who is preparing to graduate at the end of the winter term, said he is most concerned about the uncertainty of what might happen if instructors do go on strike. Stucky’s first year in the Creative Communications program was affected by the pandemic. He said he’s now worried about how a strike might affect his graduation.

“I would like to have a proper grad just for the closure,” Stucky said. “The idea of that not happening or it being delayed is definitely not a great thought.” 

As the end of the winter term approaches, some RRC Polytech students are concerned about the effects of a possible staff strike. The MGEU announced rotating strikes may begin as soon as April 11. (RRC POLYTECH FILE PHOTO)

While Stucky is up-to-date on the situation, some RRC Polytech students said they just learned this week that their instructors may take to the picket lines. The Projector spoke with nine students at RRC Polytech’s Exchange District Campus, and all of them said they only recently learned about the situation from their instructors. 

“Our professor told us about it at the starting of the week,” said Gyodsna Singla, 34, a first-year game development student.  

Singla said she received the bargaining updates sent out by the college to all students via email, but didn’t pay attention to them at the time.  

MGEU represents roughly 1,500 members working as instructors, administrators and in information technology roles at RRC Polytech and Assiniboine Community College (ACC). Negotiations for a new collective agreement started in October 2021. MGEU President Kyle Ross says the union’s members at the two schools are some of the lowest paid college staff in Canada. 

“We will continue to meet with the employer with the assistance of a conciliator,” said Ross in a statement. “We have begun to make arrangements for job action in the event that a new offer remains insufficient.” 

Inflation in Manitoba rose to eight per cent in 2022, nearly three points higher than the national average, according to a report from the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce. In their previous contract, RRC Polytech staff received a salary increase of 1.75 per cent.

MGEU released a statement on March 29 saying its members will begin a rotating strike if it does not receive an improved offer from the college by April 5. Neither MGEU or RRC Polytech could provide details about previous offers, or how the rotating strike would affect students’ learning. 

“At this time, we have only been made aware of the date the working and learning disruption may begin and have not yet received information related to the specific programs, schools or operational services that may be impacted at this time,” said Conor Lloyd, public relations director for RRC Polytech. 

Lloyd said the college remains committed to reaching a new agreement. He added that the threat of job action does not necessarily mean a strike will happen. The union must provide 48 hours’ notice to the college if it does decide to strike. 

MGEU plans to hold informational pickets on April 6 at noon. Union members will be outside RRC Polytech’s Notre Dame Campus in Winnipeg and ACC’s Victoria Avenue East Campus in Brandon.