Over the past two weeks, the bargaining team has continued to work hard at preparing our positions, and has met with the resource committees for Handbooks and Economic Benefits.
We met with the Board team again this week, and have two more meetings scheduled for next week. Meetings thus far have been collegial and productive. We are using these early meetings to exchange and discuss the initial language each side has prepared on many key issues. Thus far, despite some apparent differences, we see a lot of common ground.
After Tuesday, our next bargaining meeting will be in early June, which will give both teams time to produce thoughtful, well-considered responses to each others’ proposals. We will provide a more comprehensive update on bargaining during that interval also. Stay tuned for more.
The University of Lethbridge Faculty Association (ULFA) negotiating team met with representatives of the Board of Governors of the University of Lethbridge on Tuesday, April 24 and Wednesday, April 25.
These were the first two sessions of negotiations for our first Collective Agreement under the new labour regime introduced with Bill 7 last year.
The focus of these meetings was on logistics, protocols, and high-level thematic discussion of goals and expectations. We identified some areas where it seems likely our positions are relatively close and hence perhaps easy to bridge; we also identified others where, as in any negotiations, the two sides will have to work harder to find common ground or mutually acceptable solutions.
One area in which the two sides seemed broadly congruent in approach and expectation involved the simplification of the current agreement: both sides seemed to have generally compatible goals for a number of sections.
We are beginning negotiations later than we’d initially planned due to the necessity of waiting for a ruling from the Alberta Labour Relations Board earlier this spring; the extra time, however, appears to have been put to good use by both sides in preparing our positions. In addition to discussing overall goals and aspirations we were able to get into some detail about the specific types of issues each side wanted to address.
We also devoted some time to looking at the problem of the shortened time frame for negotiating before the bridging provisions kick in on July 1. The two sides have agreed to free up additional time in May and June as well as attempt to add an extra hour to most already-scheduled meeting times. This will speed up negotiations with an eye to concluding as close to July 1 as possible.
Finally, the two sides discussed their plans for the next meetings, scheduled for Friday May 11 and Monday May 14. In these meetings, we intend to look closely at the degree to which certain sections of the Handbook might be merged and the mechanisms by which this might be accomplished.
Representing ULFA were Bargaining Team Daniel O’Donnell (Spokesperson), Paul Hayes, and Terry Sway. Rumi Graham and Joy Morris served as Observers and Annabree Fairweather as resource person. Representing the University were Bargaining Team Ed Jurkowski (Co-Chair), Chris Nicol (Co-Chair), and Carrie Takeyasu. Scott Harling and Geoff Tierney (Geoff Tierney Law) served as resource persons.
This is the first of what we hope will be an occasional series on basic facts about collective bargaining under the Labour Relations Code (“The Code”).
The goal of this series is to inform our members about the conditions under which Collective Bargaining is taking place and the various rules and expectations that impact how it is carried out. This series is in addition to our updates and notices.
“What happens if bargaining goes past June 30, 2018?”
A question we have heard over and over again at our “Meet and Greet” sessions and other presentations is “What happens if bargaining goes past June 30th?”
Difference between the old and new systems
Under our old system of bargaining, this really wasn’t an issue, since our terms and conditions did not have an expiry date, and we were required to submit any impasse in economic benefits negotiations to an arbitrator for Final Offer Selection (FOS). Our schedule for negotiations under this old system assumed we would get things done before the contract expired. While we occasionally missed that deadline, we were never more than a month or two late. Pay differences were handled retroactively.
Under the new system, however, the end of the contract is much more significant.
- Our terms and conditions (e.g. including such core values as academic freedom and tenure) now have an expiry date unless they are renewed (previously only economic benefits had an end date);
- We cannot reach an impasse until after the contract has expired (i.e. the impasse resolution mechanisms like formal mediation, lockout, or strike can be invoked only after June 30th).
- Because there is no automatic arbitration and because Handbook terms are not automatically renewed, we must negotiate until we reach agreement. Negotiations are therefore highly likely to go past the end of the contract much more commonly in the future than they did in the past.
- The bulk of our currently planned negotiating sessions are scheduled for July after the contract ends.
So what does happen after the contract expires?
The short answer is that things continue exactly as they are until one of three things happens:
- We reach an agreement;
- Job action (Lockout or strike) interrupts negotiations;
- Negotiations continue for two years beyond the end of the contract.
The first of these is, of course, the most likely scenario–though we can’t say now how long it might take.
As we’ve said repeatedly in our sessions, we believe that the second option is relatively unlikely. In the unlikely event that job action occurs, however, ULFA has built up sufficient reserves to support its membership through an average length job action–and we recommend that members build up a small amount of savings (for somebody with an average salary of $115k/year, probably between $1200 and $3600 should be sufficient).
The third is extremely unlikely and there is also some uncertainty as to whether this rule from the Code applies to the Post Secondary Sector during the five year “Statutory Freeze” that established the Faculty Associations as Unions.
What does “continue exactly as they are” mean?
When we say things “continue exactly as they are,” we mean that our contract stays in force during negotiations until settlement, job action, or two years have passed.
It means that all language that does not have an explicit end date in the contract continues in force:
- Tenure remains in effect;
- You continue to have academic freedom and enjoy the protections of our discipline, grievance, and appeal processes;
- You keep your health benefits, pension plans, tuition benefits, academic freedom, eligibility for promotion, etc.
- If you are eligible for tenure, promotion, a continuing contract, or study leave, you can still access those processes;
- Your professional supplement will be paid “on or around July 1” as required by Schedule B.05.1;
- Those who are eligible for merit or career progress increments will receive them (see 32.04 and 32.05.2–Merit and Career progress are paid out on June 30th and so would have to be paid out anyway);
- You will receive a cost of living adjustment (COLA) on July 1 equal to the average of the February to February Canadian and Alberta CPI (Schedule A.02.1. For this coming year, we know that COLA will be worth 2.2%).
In other words, unless we settle, are locked out or go on strike, or (maybe) find ourselves still without a settlement after two years, almost everything in our contract continues as is: your benefits stay in place, you have access to the same freedoms and rights, and your pay will continue to rise through COLA and, if you are eligible, career progress, and merit.
But if the contract is expired, can’t the University just refuse to honour its terms?
The continuation of the contract is required under section 130(1) of the Labour Relations Code and is known as “Bridging” or a “Statutory Freeze”:
Bridging of collective agreements
130(1) When notice to commence collective bargaining has been served under this Act, a collective agreement that applies to the parties at the time of service of the notice is deemed to continue to apply to the parties, notwithstanding any termination date in the
(a) a new collective agreement is concluded,
(b) the right of the bargaining agent to represent the employees is terminated, or
(c) a strike or lockout commences under Division 13.
We triggered this when we issued our various notices to bargain earlier this Spring (in fact, this is why we issued two notices to bargain, even as we were waiting for the Labour Board to rule on our contention that there was only one collective agreement: by issuing the notices to bargain, we ensured that the bridging provisions would come into effect no matter which way the Board ruled; in the end, of course, they ruled in our favour).
Just as importantly, it is both a grievance and an unfair labour practice (which ULFA can appeal to the Labour Relations Board) if the employer attempts to stop any of these contractual rights. This means that the University cannot refuse to honour any of the terms of our current collective agreement while negotiations are ongoing.
So why would we settle? If we are receiving a pay increase when the contract expires, shouldn’t we try to stall negotiations for as long as possible?
Given this freeze, you might think it would be in our interest to try and stall negotiations as long as possible. Some unions in the Province (e.g. the Nurses, Teachers, and the U of C), after all, have settled for 0% pay increases for two years. If we were faced with the option of settling a contract and receiving 0% or not settling and receiving an automatic Cost of Living Adjustment of 2.2% (and we have received no indication that we are), a smart strategy might seem to be to avoid settling.
There are several reasons, however, why we want to make every reasonable effort to enter into a new collective agreement:
- We are legally obliged to. Under Section 60(1) of the Code, both the employer and the Union are required after a notice to bargain has been served to “bargain collectively in good faith” and “make every reasonable effort to enter into a collective agreement.” Deliberately stalling negotiations in order to benefit from the bridging provisions could be inconsistent with this duty;
- There is no reason to believe that our final settlement must mirror those of the unions that settled before the provincial budget was announced. The Nurses and the Teachers negotiate on a province-wide basis, and the agreement the U of C just settled is from last year (their contract expired in 2017). Moreover, while the government has been clear that they expect the universities to be careful stewards of their budgets, they have also been clear
- That there is no mandate requiring them to reach a specific settlement with the Faculty Associations;
- That they have provided the universities stable and consistent funding (2% plus backfilling the tuition freeze) consistent with previous years, and expect to see them use this funding in a similar fashion;
- That they are critical of policies like the 4% across the board cuts instituted at the U of A.
- Pay increases awarded during the bridging period may be subject to retroactive deduction, depending on the nature of our final settlement . In other words, the final settlement may require members to pay back money awarded during the bridging period if the final settlement is less or different from the awards made after the contract expiry (this provision applies to COLA only: career progress and merit awards fall are actually awarded this year before the current contract expires, rather than under the bridging provisions). It is possible to mitigate the effect of this, through mechanisms like a compensatory signing bonus; but on the whole, it is better to try and avoid the potential problem.
- Prolonged negotiations can lead to labour unrest, uncertainty, and potentially drops in student numbers and poorer working conditions both during and after negotiations.
In the end, we are better off with a contract than without one. The bridging provisions, however, provide some continuity while we work towards negotiating our new agreement.
Should you have any questions about this matter, or any other related to our ongoing collective bargaining, don’t hesitate to contact the negotiating team Dr. Dan O’Donnell (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Dr. Paul Hayes (email@example.com) .
The University of Lethbridge Faculty Association (ULFA) and the Board of Governors of the University of Lethbridge have scheduled 13 two hour negotiating sessions between April 24 and July 25, for a total of 26 hours negotiating time.
In keeping with previous practice, sessions alternate between the Senior Administration meeting room on the seventh floor and the ULFA meeting room on the sixth. The precise topics and order in which they will be discussed is subject to negotiation between the sides.
The meeting dates currently scheduled are
- April 24 – 9:00am to 11:00am A780
- April 25 – 8:00am to 10:00am D620
- May 11 – 10:00am to 12:00pm D620
- May 14 –11:00am to 1:00pm A780
- June 4 – 12:30pm to 2:30pm D620
- June 8 – 11:00am to 1:00pm A780
- June 18 – 1:30pm to 3:30pm D620
- June 20 – 1:30pm to 3:30pm A780
- July 16 – 9:00am to 11:00am D620
- July 18 – 9:00am to 11:00am A780
- July 20 – 9:00am to 11:00am D620
- July 23 – 9:00am to 11:00am A780
- July 25 – 11:00am to 1:00pm D620
The annual Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) Forum for Chief Negotiators was held this past weekend in Ottawa. Three members of the University of Lethbridge Faculty Association (ULFA) bargaining team (Paul Hayes, Dan O’Donnell, and Annabree Fairweather) attended.
The annual forum is an opportunity to gather resources for bargaining support, catch up on bargaining trends from across the country, and to exchange experiences with other negotiating teams. The event also includes a two-session workshop in which bargaining team members practice preparing and presenting some issue in contemporary collective bargaining.
The theme this year was “Bargaining for Solidarity.” The speakers and the exercises concentrated for the most part on the question of how Faculty Associations/Unions can best represent the diverse workforces found on most campuses–diverse in the sense of both types of employment and demographic groups.
The agenda is available online. Highlights pertaining particularly to the case of the University of Lethbridge included the opening speaker, JP Hornick, Chief Spokesperson for the Faculty side in the recent College strike in Ontario, and Linda St-Pierre, Chief Spokesperson of the Laurentian University Faculty Association Bargaining Team during their 2017 strike.
Hornick’s presentation focused on membership communications. She recommended constant, multi-channel, and realistic communications with Membership both in preparation for bargaining and while bargaining is going on. ULFA had already adopted many of her suggestions, but the team still picked up some good ideas to ensure the membership remains as well informed as possible during negotiations.
St-Pierre’s presentation focused on the Laurentian University Faculty Association’s experience in the lead-up to its 2017 strike. This presentation was particularly notable because the lead bargainer on the Management side in those negotiations was Geoff Tierney, whom the University of Lethbridge has recently hired as a consultant to its bargaining team for our current negotiations.
The meeting was also important for the indications it gave regarding national themes in collective bargaining in the sector. From the various presentations and questions, for example, it is clear that there are currently national trends towards
- ensuring that the contributions made by Contract Academic Staff (i.e. “Sessional Lecturers” at the University of Lethbridge) are appropriately recognised,
- addressing the increasingly evident human rights issues at play in the use of student questionnaires in performance evaluation, and
- ensuring that Faculty Association unions have proper access to information about their membership in order to fulfil their legal obligation of fair representation.
These are all issues that have been of concern to our membership and to ULFA.
As we have previously reported, the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) ruled on March 14 in favour of the University of Lethbridge Faculty Association (ULFA) in its case against the University of Lethbridge.
The issue involved the question of the size and composition of the Bargaining Unit and the number of associated Collective Agreements to be bargained between ULFA and the University.
Since the ruling was issues, the bargaining teams from both sides have been in contact to arrange meeting times for the commencement of bargaining.
Under the Labour Relations Code, the initial bargaining meeting must take place within 30 days of one side or the other issuing a valid “Notice to Bargain.” (An explanation of the new process of bargaining can be found here). Because our current collective agreement had two end dates (one for the “Sessional Handbook” and one for the “Faculty Handbook”), ULFA has issued two valid Notices to Bargain, including most recently on March 5.
After losing 10 days of the window to the wait for the ALRB ruling, it has proved difficult to find a suitable time in the remaining 20 days for the two sides to meet to begin bargaining. The University team was available on March 24th and 25th and while ULFA’s team had a number of dates in March available including these, it was unable to meet at the University’s proposed times.
Given this, ULFA has agreed to waive the 30 day requirement for an initial meeting under the Code. We now expect to begin negotiations on April 24th and have been able to tentatively schedule one or two meetings most weeks from April 24 through the end of our contract in June.