Bargaining teams for the University of Lethbridge Faculty Association (ULFA) and the
Board of Governors of the University of Lethbridge held a preliminary meeting on Friday,
The meeting was requested by ULFA to discuss changes to the bargaining process required
by Bill 7, the provincial law that moved bargaining in the post-secondary sector into
the provincial Labour
Relations Code .
Getting to know each other while discussing some important topics
This was a preliminary meeting, intended to discover common areas of concern and
begin planning for our first round of bargaining under the new rules. The topics
- Essential Service Agreements (ESA);
- Bargaining processes and protocols;
- Communication protocols;
Terms and conditions in our current collective agreement
that have been superseded by the Labour Relations Code.
These all represent important changes to the collective bargaining process or the
relationship of ULFA to the Board. They are discussed in more detail at the end of
In addition to an opportunity to discuss some important preliminary issues with the
Board, the ULFA team also saw this meeting as something of a Hudson’s Bay Start–a chance for us to try out the new team in a low stakes
environment: we had a chance to prepare for a meeting, practice our in-room
procedures and protocol, and get to know the other side. This was particularly
important because both negotiating teams have new internal and external members,
including, for the first time, external labour relations consultants.
A fruitful meeting
The meeting was very productive. The two sides turned out to have many similar
questions and concerns and were able to exchange some useful ideas based on their
preliminary research. They also agreed to meet at least once more before the
Christmas break in order to compare notes on several of these topics including the
ESA, bargaining processes and protocols, timelines, and the legislatively superseded
terms and conditions.
We were also very pleased with the meeting as an opportunity to get some early
experience with this year’s teams. The ULFA side worked well together and we found
the Board side to be very constructive and approachable.
The Board was represented by Legal Counsel and Privacy Officer Scott Harling, Dean
Ed Jurkowski, University Librarian Chris Nicol, Associate Vice President Finance,
Carrie Takeyasu, and Labour and Employment Consultant Geoff Tierney, principal of Geoff Tierney Law.
ULFA was represented by Executive Director Annabree Fairweather, Faculty Members
Paul Hayes and Daniel Paul O’Donnell, and Human Resources Consultant Terry Sway.
Your bargaining team welcomes questions on any aspect the negotiating process.
Please contact the association or any member of the team!
Why these were important topics…
As mentioned above, this meeting was intended to discuss some important changes that
have taken place in the bargaining process as a result of the introduction of Bill 7 and
the movement of labour relations in the Post Secondary Sector into the Labour Relations
Code. The following is a basic primer on the issues involved and why they are important.
Essential Services Agreement
Essential Services Agreements are a new feature of the Alberta Labour Relations Code
(see Division 15.1 of the Code), introduced by the province in response to the Supreme Court’s 2015
Saskatchewan Federation of Labour vs. Saskatchewan recognising
strike/lockout as a fundamental right (here is a pre-Bill 7 discussion of ESA legislation as it applies to emergency
services and similar unions; the rules and issues in the Post Secondary sector as a
little different). The legislation requires public sector unions and management to
negotiate and register an ESA with the Commissioner before requesting mediation or
commencing job action.
Essential Services are services carried out by union members the “interruption of
which would endanger the life, personal safety or health of the public” or “are
necessary to the maintenance and administration of the rule of law or public
security.” They do not include services that can be carried out by non-union members
(e.g. management), or that do not affect human health or safety, or would merely
result in inconvenience.
Because this is a new requirement, there are few precedents we can rely on as models
for what will be our first agreement. During our meeting, the two sides discussed
their current research on the matter and compared notes on potential tasks and
positions to be considered for inclusion.
Bargaining Processes and Protocols
Before the passage of Bill 7, collective bargaining in the past-secondary sector was
governed by the Post Secondary Learning act, which largely deferred to local
agreements between universities and their faculty associations. This meant, among
other things, that each university had its own rules determining when negotiations
must begin, the processes by which negotiations were to proceed, and the timelines
that governed these negotiations.
Under the Labour Relations Code, many of these processes are now legally mandated.
Most of our practices remain congruent with these new mandates and the Board and
ULFA used this meeting as an opportunity to confirm our common understanding.
One place where the Labour Relations Code differs greatly from our previous practice
has to do with timelines. In our current agreement, our negotiating timeline can be
described as taking place in a series of “windows”: the two sides must give notice
of their willingness to bargain some time within a fixed term in the Fall Term
(September 15-December 15); negotiations themselves must take place within a fixed
term in the Spring Semester (February 15-April 15; both terms are defined in Article
3 and/or Schedule C of the Handbook).
Under the Labour Relations Code, timelines are established by counting backwards
(and, in the event of impasse, forwards) from the end-date of the contract. Letters
indicating a desire to negotiate must be issued between 120 and 60 days before the
end of the contract. Negotiations must then begin within 30 days of this notice. In
the case of the “Faculty Handbook,” which expires on June 30, 2018, this means the
initial notice must be provided between the beginning of March and the beginning of
May, 2018. The “Sessional Lecturers’ Handbook” has an expiry date of April 30th,
creating a notification window extending from the beginning of January through the
beginning of March.
The two sides discussed the pros and cons of various broad dates for starting the
negotiating process under the new rules without reaching a final conclusion or
Traditionally under our Handbook, ULFA and the Board have negotiated Terms and
Conditions and Economic Benefits separately (by “Terms and Conditions” we mean the
material in the Handbook except for Schedules A and B; Schedules A and B contain our
core financial agreement and are known as “economic benefits”). In negotiating
terminology, these separate negotiations are known as “tables.” Because we also
negotiated Terms and Conditions and Economic Benefits for Sessional Instructors
separately as well, this means that our past practice has been to hold parallel
negotiations at as many as four “tables.”
We did this because, under the old system, negotiations concerning Terms and
Conditions and negotiations concerning Economic Benefits were fairly distinct
processes. They had different beginning processes (cf Article 3 vs. Schedule C) and
requirements and they involved different methods of resolution in the case of
impasse. If an impasse was reached in Terms and Conditions negotiations, for
example, then the status quo prevailed–i.e. a proposal that was not accepted by
both sides was simply abandoned and the existing language of the Handbook remained
in force. In the case of economic benefits, on the other hand, impasse was resolved
through a process in which each side prepared a “final offer” for an arbitrator’s
Under the Labour Relations Code, all aspects of a collective agreement
begin with the same notification process, are associated with the same Essential
Services Agreement, and are subject to the same resolution mechanism in the case of
impasse (i.e. mediation and, if that fails, ultimately lockout/strike). This means
that it makes little sense to negotiate Terms and Conditions separately from
Economic Benefits, since an impasse in one results in the entire agreement being
presented to a mediator and, if mediation fails, the entire agreement being subject
to potential job action. When ratification occurs, similarly, it is for the whole
The two sides discussed this change in process and agreed that combining
negotiations for economic benefits and terms and conditions at a single “table” made
the most sense under the code.
Communication during collective bargaining is an important issue.
On the one hand, it is important, especially on the union side, that membership are
aware of how negotiations are progressing and the major issues under discussion. The
conditions under negotiation affect every member of the bargaining unit and, in the
end, members will be asked to accept or reject the provisions of any agreement that
is reached. In the unlikely event that negotiations result in an impasse, members
may ultimately either face employer-instituted job action (e.g. a lockout or similar
action) or be asked to decide whether they want to engage in employee-instituted
action (e.g. a strike or similar action). All of these decisions require a good
knowledge of the issues involved and the reasons why the agreement (or impasse) in
question has been reached.
But while it is important that the membership be informed about the issues at stake
in and the progress of negotiations, it is also important that efforts to keep
members informed do not actually harm the negotiations as they progress.
During negotiations, both sides frequently make proposals “without prejudice”–that
is to say, for which the proposer reserves the right to modify in response to
counter proposals and other exigencies of negotiation.
When negotiations are progressing constructively, it is important to protect the
provisional nature of proposals made “without prejudice.” If too much detail is
reported, one or the other side may feel trapped by their preliminary position or
start formulating proposals for public relations purposes rather than as a way of
reaching agreement. This can hurt the progress of negotiations and result in a
poorer agreement or damaged labour relations.
But it is also counter-productive to wait until an agreement or impasse is reached
before members are informed about the issues at stake. Solidarity requires that
union members understand what is going on, how the negotiations are progressing, and
what is at stake in the issues under discussion.
The two sides agreed in this meeting on the importance of achieving this balance and
will take steps to ensure that public communication on both sides is conducted in a
constructive manner. We may discuss this further during the opening stages of our
Superseded terms and conditions
The last topic of discussion involved the general question of terms and conditions
from our current Handbook that have been replaced or rendered moot by the movement
of labour relations into the Labour Relations Code. In addition to the new timelines
and processes for negotiation discussed above, the Code also governs other aspects
of the relationship between the Board and Association in ways that may contradict or
replace current Handbook language. The two sides agreed to investigate this question
further and meet again in December to compare notes.