UPDATE: Labour Board Accepts ULFA’s Submission

As we reported last week, ULFA filed an application with the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) for a ruling on the relationship between the Sessional and Faculty “Handbooks.”

This application came as a result of our December 15th meeting with the Board of Governor’s bargaining team at which time we discussed the issue of whether there were two bargaining units (Sessional Lecturers vs Faculty/Professional Librarians/Instructors/Academic Assistants) and, therefore, two collective agreements (the Sessional Lecturers Handbook vs the Faculty Handbook) or whether we have one unified bargaining unit and one unified collective agreement.

It became clear at this meeting with the Board of Governors that the two parties had irreconcilable interpretations of the Labour Relations Code and the Post-Secondary Learning Act as they pertain to this issue. ULFA subsequently filed an application with the ALRB on January 4th, who in turn has accepted the case for an expedited hearing.

The hearing will take place in Calgary at a date yet to be determined in the near future. You may have also seen around campus a notice of the ALRB case posted for ULFA members to see. If you haven’t seen it in your department or around campus, please follow up with your Dean’s Office to ensure this notice is posted publicly.

We will keep you informed of developments as they arise.

 

Faculty Association Applies to Alberta Labour Relations Board for a Ruling

In our post on the December 15 meeting between Board and ULFA negotiating teams, we reported that there was some disagreement between the two sides as to the precise rules that would govern our negotiating in the New Year. The most fundamental of these involves the way negotiations for the “Academic Staff” bargaining unit must be conducted.

As we understand it, the Board’s position is that ULFA and the Board must negotiate separate and distinct collective agreements for Sessional Employees and Faculty, with separate Essential Services Agreements for each, separate negotiations, and, should agreement not be reached in a timely fashion, potentially separate or conflicting mediation, strike, and/or lockout processes. ULFA’s position is that ULFA represents one bargaining unit made up of all academic staff and thus, by law, we are required to enter into a single collective agreement for that bargaining unit. Further, dividing the bargaining unit into two parts with two collective agreements is inconsistent with best or common practice, the laws that govern our negotiations, and Labour Code precedent and policy.

This disagreement is important as bargaining strategy, timing decisions, the focus of bargaining committees, the group affected by an essential services agreement, an application for mediation or a strike or lockout is different depending on which view is correct. It would be very difficult to learn from the Labour Relations Board at the point of applying for mediation or a strike/lockout, that the bargaining has been for the wrong group and the parties need to start over.

At the December 15th meeting, the parties could not reach agreement on this matter and the Board announced its intention to proceed unilaterally to begin distinct Faculty and Sessional negotiations early in the new year. It further advised ULFA that the Association could seek a ruling from the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) if it disagreed with the Board’s proposed course of action. The two sides agreed at the conclusion of the meeting that a resolution of this matter was essential before negotiations could begin.

In a subsequent exchange of letters, ULFA indicated its intention to file an application with the ALRB for a ruling on the question as the Board suggested. The Board then confirmed its intention to proceed unilaterally to begin separate negotiations for Sessional and Faculty members of the Academic Staff. ULFA’s application to the ALRB was prepared over the Holiday break and filed on January 4th.

We do not have a timeline for a decision from the ALRB. We have been told, however, that cases like this can be heard quite quickly. We will continue to update the membership as the ALRB process continues.

Second Pre-bargaining meeting (Dec. 15): Some disagreements about process and scope

The Faculty Association and Board Bargaining teams met on Friday Dec. 15.

The meeting was called by the Board as a followup to our November 10 meeting to discuss various protocols and processes that will govern bargaining once it begins in the new year.

Issues discussed at the December 15th meeting included the Essential Services Agreement (ESA), the number of “tables” (i.e. the number of agreements and sets of negotiations), and a very broad overview of potential topics for negotiation.

As a result of this discussion, the two sides have discovered some important differences of opinion and understanding, particularly pertaining to the mechanics of negotiation under the Labour Relations Code and the Post Secondary Learning Act.

This is not surprising, since we are entering a completely new negotiating environment as a result of the passing of Bill 7 this past Spring. In some cases these differences need to be resolved before bargaining can begin. We have tentatively scheduled a follow-up meeting in mid January and intend to use the meantime to further research the issues in question and the avenues that exist for their resolution. In some cases, this may involve appeals to external authorities such as the Alberta Labour Relations Board.

In keeping with our practice of alternating between Board and Faculty Association space, this meeting took place in the Faculty Association offices. The Board side was represented by Chris Nicol and Ed Jurkowski (co-chairs), Carrie Takeyasu, Scott Harling, and external consultant Geoff Tierney. This was also our first opportunity to meet with new Chief Human Resources Officer Chandra Singh who began in his new position on Dec. 7.

On the Faculty Association side were Daniel Paul O’Donnell and Paul Hayes with Terry Sway and Annabree Fairweather serving as resource persons. New to the team was Rumi Graham who is serving as an observer from the Economic Benefits Committee.

Negotiations in a Lockout/Strike Environment: Report on a Workshop and Presentation

Yesterday, we reported on http://ulfa.ca/bargaining-updates/item/a-hudson-s-bay-start, during which we began discussions about the new rules and protocols under which collective bargaining with take place in this Spring.

This was only one of a number of different events that took place last week on this topic however. Nov. 6-10 was one of the bargaining team’s busiest weeks thus far!

Understanding bargaining in a Lockout/Strike context presentation (Monday November 6).

The first event in the week was a presentation to the ULFA membership about negotiating in the context of Bill 7 (i.e. Lockout/Strike). On Monday afternoon, members of the executive and the bargaining team held a townhall with members, during which we went through

  • the changes imposed on us by the Labour Relations Code;
  • the current state of our preparations for the very unlikely possibility that we reach an impasse that results in a lockout or strike;
  • some things members can do now to ensure they are as protected as possible in the very unlikely event of a lockout or strike.

Bargaining Update Photo

This emphasis on the fact that a strike or lockout is very unlikely was found throughout the presentation as well. While it is prudent to prepare for a worst-case scenario, we have very little reason to believe that a lockout or strike is in any way likely this round:

  1. The Board and ULFA have a very long history of successful labour negotiations–over 40 contracts successfully completed in our 50 year history, without less than a handful requiring mediation or arbitration;
  2. Job action is rare in the Post Secondary sector and usually follows deteriorating relationships;
  3. Employers as a rule do not seek out job action, since it hurts their core business (universities that have strikes or lockouts tend to have lower enrolment, subsequently);
  4. ULFA (like all faculty associations in the province) is still building its job action fund, and as a result is at the weakest it will ever be.

We will be giving a version of this presentation at the AGM on Thursday, December 7, 2018 from at noon in PE275. You can also access the slides here: https://zenodo.org/record/1045544.

A Hudson’s Bay Start: Report on the November 10 preliminary meeting between ULFA and the Board bargaining teams

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,
November 10.

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
covered included:

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
this post.

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.

Timelines

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.

Bargaining Timelines

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
agreement.

“Tables”

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
decision.

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
agreement.

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.

Communications protocols

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
negotiations.

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.

At the CAUT Contract Academic Staff (Sessionals) Workshop

Last week, ULFA Executive Director Annabree Fairweather and I attended the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) Contract Academic Staff workshop in Toronto.

20171020_123705.jpg
At the CAUT Contractual Faculty Workshop (my first selfie)

Contract Academic Staff (CAS) is CAUT’s term for employees who are paid on a per-course, short term, and contractual basis–the group known as “Sessional Lecturers” at the University of Lethbridge.

The struggles of CAS for fair working conditions and pay, as well as universities’ use of such contracts to replace longer-term research and teaching faculty is a major issue across North America. In many places, contractual staff now teach a majority of the credit hours on campus.

The programme for the workshop called for a day of presentations and then an all day workshop practicing various elements involved in representing CAS at the University.

Annabree was one of a select group of invited speakers who played a role on both days. On the first day, she discussed ULFA’s experiences in representing contract faculty, particularly in negotiations and grievance. On the second day, she was the expert invited to introduce the grievance workshop.

20171021_092854.jpg
ULFA Executive Director Annabree Fairweather discussing best practice in grievances for Contractual Faculty

In addition to attending lectures and the workshop, participants also joined an exciting  lunch-time rally by and for striking college workers at Toronto’s Huron College.

20171020_123822.jpg
Rapper Mohammad Ali rouses the crowd at the Humber College Rally

 

The programme

The conference began with session “We know what is wrong.” This looked at the well-known issues that can make contract work so demoralising and difficult. Lack of respect from administration (and often peers and students). Low pay. Lack of long-term certainty about employment and financial insecurity. Susceptibility to bullying from senior colleagues and administration due to the precarious nature of such contracts. Particularly moving and important in this session was the discussion from contract staff themselves about the impact poor working conditions can have on their research, health, family, and teaching.

The remaining sessions on the first day looked at the “Core Struggles” affecting this group of employees–Bargaining and Contract Language, Grievances, and Mobilization. Speakers discussed approaches they had taken in each of these areas to win improved job conditions and pay for contract staff. Most of the speakers were contract staff in their own right and it was very inspirational to see just how much they had been able to accomplish at Universities across the country, including several that are often compared to the University of Lethbridge or otherwise used as comparators by our administration.

On the second day, the participants divided up into breakout groups, each of which practiced a single skill involved in the representation of contract staff. I was assigned to the grievance group, where we discussed and prepared a grievance for contract staff at a fictitious Canadian University, Great Northern U. Annabree was assigned to a different group, who practiced making short, effective cellphone videos. Other groups looked at preparing negotiating language, writing press-releases, and preparing information fliers, posters, and websites.

Lessons learned

One lesson to come out of this workshop was just how far behind the norms in our sector the University of Lethbridge is in protecting and developing its contract academic workforce. Even compared to similar universities in similar jurisdictions and locations, our current collective agreement has fewer protections for our contract staff.

But perhaps most of all, it is clear that we lag behind much of the country in understanding who our contract staff are and why protecting their rights and improving their relationship to the university is in all our interests.

At the University of Lethbridge, we tend to understand CAS as a short term solution to emergent problems: the people we hire to teach courses when holes appear in our schedule or to replace people on leave. Throughout, the emphasis is on limiting our relationship to these employees purely to the time they are under contract.

While flexibility is an important aspect of CAS employment everywhere, the best universities in Canada tend to understand contract staff as a crucial part of their faculty: a group of professionals who can provide both flexibility and continuity and whose expertise and skills can be cultivated and developed in a mutually beneficial way. Recognising the important role sessional faculty play at the university and cultivating this relationship on a longer term basis improves the working conditions, job satisfaction, and effectiveness of the contract staff without compromising the university’s flexibility. The best collective agreements in Canada understand contract staff as valuable and uniquely flexible teaching professionals and provide reasonable professional support and continuity.

This is a place where we can do much better as a community! While at the CAUT meeting, we met a number of experts who will be able to assist us in reviewing our contract and thinking through the steps we need to take with the administration to ensure we really are a destination university for everybody who works and studies here.

~Dan O’Donnell