Bargaining update June 18-20: Eighteen Articles and Schedules and some more discussion of economic benefits over three days of negotiations

Bargaining teams for the Faculty Association and University met for three sessions this week, on June 18, 19, and 20. Over the course of the three days, they discussed eighteen articles and returned to the question of economic benefits. The sides reached agreement in principle on one article (28 Vacations) and one schedule (E [Old numbering] Copyright).

Having presented a large number of articles and schedules in the first few sessions, ULFA is now largely responding to counter proposals from the Board side.

At this point, only Article 12 (Criteria for extension of probation, tenure, promotion, and salary increments) remains to be presented. While ULFA has some proposals for this article, it has agreed to let the Board side make the first presentation as part of a larger proposed revision of articles referring to different employee groups (i.e. Sessional Lecturers, Instructors/Academic Assistants, Faculty, and Professional Librarians).

As has been the case thus far, the discussions over these three days were constructive and efficient. The two sides have been able to identify large areas of agreement in most articles under discussion and, just as importantly, more sharply delineate the areas where more work is required. As the gradually slowing pace of the exchanges demonstrate, we also are now beginning to isolate the areas where the most work must occur. As negotiations continue, we can expect there to be fewer articles exchanged and longer discussions of individual words and phrases.

Both sides have indicated that they are currently satisfied with the tenor and progress of negotiations.

The next (and only currently booked) negotiations are scheduled for July 16 and 25. Both sides agreed to investigate the possibility of scheduling additional sessions in July or August.

Below is a more detailed account of the articles discussed. A spreadsheet listing the current state of negotiations on each article can be found here.

Monday June 18

In a four hour session, the two sides discussed 11 articles and schedules:

Board ULFA
6 Communication and Information

9 Personal Files

10 Courses taught in addition to assigned duties

27 Holidays

28 Vacations

33 Gradual Retirement and Reduced Load

22 Grievance

30 Travel fund

31 Research fund

32 Salary Schedules

E Copyright form (agreed to in principle)

Of these, only 32 (Salary Schedules) was new. In the case of Schedule E (to be renumbered Schedule C), ULFA accepted in principle the Board’s proposal from June 8.

Tuesday June 19

In a three hour session, the two sides discussed 7 articles:

Board ULFA
1 Objectives

3 Amendments

4 Applications and exclusions

5 Recognition

10 Courses taught in addition to assigned duties

16 Termination

28 Vacations (agreed to in principle)

There were no new articles in this session. In the case of Article 28, ULFA was able to accept in principal the Board’s proposal from the day before with only minor typographic changes.

Wednesday June 19

The two sides met briefly to recap and expand upon previous discussions on economic benefits.

Essential Services Agreement (ESA) Teams Announced

ULFA and the Board have identified teams to discuss the content of an Essential Services Agreement (ESA).

ULFA will be represented by Rob Sutherland, Dawn McBride, and Locke Spencer. The Board will be represented by Chris Hosgood, Nancy Pastoor, Mary Kay, and Carolin Cattoi Demkiw.

The ESA is a requirement of the new legislation governing negotiations in the Post Secondary Sector under the Alberta Labour Code. The agreement identifies employees whose work is essential to human health and safety or the maintenance of law and order. We have given some background on ESAs in two earlier posts.

ULFA has taken part in a number of training sessions on ESAs, including several meetings with Essential Services Commissioner Gwen Gray and Director of Mediation Services Don Mitchell. In the course of these discussions, it was able to identify a number of specific groups of faculty members who it believes are essential to the preservation of human health and safety. We were able to further confirm the nature of these duties with the affected Members during our “meet and greet” sessions this past academic year.

The two teams will take up contact soon. You can learn more about ESAs and ULFA’s preparation in this area here, here, here, and here.

ULFA prepares Labour Board application over contested “bridging” provisions

In a May 29th post, we reported on a continuing disagreement between ULFA and representatives of the Board of Governors of the University of Lethbridge concerning the applicability of “bridging” provisions within the Alberta Labour Relations Code to our current negotiations and collective agreement.

After several exchanges, the two sides have been unable to resolve this dispute.

In a letter dated June 12, University President Mike Mahon invoked the provisions of Article 1 of our current collective agreement, requiring the President of the Faculty Association to convene an Interpretation Committee on this matter within 5 Working Days.

ULFA has indicated to the University its belief that Article 1 is an inappropriate forum for the resolution of questions surrounding the application of the Code to our current collective agreement. We believe that the invocation of Article 1 by the University in the face of these objections could be understood as an unfair labour practice in as much as it could be understood as circumventing the provisions of the Labour Code and causing the Association and its members to surrender rights they have under that legislation. The Association has determined that the best course available to it in the face of this emergent request from the Board is to file an application with the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) within the next four working days.

We have informed the University of this intention this afternoon.

The process to be followed in this case will be similar to that followed in our previous application to the Board with regard to the relationship between the Faculty and Sessional Lecturers’ “Handbooks.” The expedited process in that case took approximately two and a half months to resolve. Because this matter, like the last, relates to ongoing bargaining, we expect that the process will be similarly expedited. We remain, of course, open to other solutions that do not abrogate our members’ rights under the Code.

We will post updates as further information becomes available.

Bargaining update June 8th: 18 articles exchanged in extended session

Bargaining teams from ULFA and the Board of Governors met for a scheduled 4 hour meeting on June 8th. During the meeting, which was extended by almost an extra hour, the two sides exchanged language on 18 articles and schedules (you can see the status of all articles here):

  • Article 3: Amendments (presented by ULFA)
  • Article 4: Applications and exclusions (presented by ULFA)
  • Article 5: Recognition (presented by ULFA)
  • Article 6: Communication and Information (presented by ULFA)
  • Article 9: Personal files (presented by ULFA)
  • Article 10: Courses taught in addition to assigned teaching duties (presented by ULFA)
  • Article 11: Rights and responsibilities (presented by the Board)
  • Article 16: Termination of appointment (presented by the Board)
  • Article 22: Grievance (presented by the Board)
  • Article 23: Mediation (presented by the Board)
  • Article 24: Appeals of recommendations by STP Committees (presented by the Board)
  • Article 26: Termination (presented by the Board)
  • Article 29: Intellectual property (presented by the Board)
  • Article 30: Travel fund (presented by the Board)
  • Article 31: Research fund (presented by the Board)
  • Schedule A: Salary schedules and stipends (presented by ULFA)
  • Schedule B: Economic benefits (presented by ULFA)
  • Schedule E: Copyright (presented by the Board)

Finally, the Board side gave a preliminary presentation on their proposal for a new structure to the Collective Agreement comprising a “Common Agreement” (i.e. articles that apply to all categories of Academic Staff), and four “Parts” that apply to different categories of members (i.e. the Professoriate, Librarians, Instructors/Academic Assistants, Sessional Lecturers).

The language presented ranged from new proposals (i.e. the first language presented on the Articles in question), to a fourth or fifth exchange. New articles included Articles 16, 26, 29, 30 and 31 and Schedules A and B. Articles 4, 5, 6, 9, 11, and 24, as well as Schedule E, involved first responses to material previously proposed by the other side. Articles 3, 10, 22, and 23 have been exchanged several times, in some cases as recently as this past Monday.

In contrast to last session, in which ULFA was able to accept in principle two responses prepared by the Board, on this day the two sides were unable to come to any provisional agreements. Several articles, however, seem quite close to provisional settlement. It seems likely that the two sides will agree to some at our next meeting.

Under the ground rules we are following, articles can be accepted in principle by the two sides during negotiations; final acceptance, however, depends on a settlement of the entire Collective Agreement. This approach allows greater flexibility in negotiations as it allows on the one hand for the two sides to build trust and agreement by gradually settling language; but on the other it means that they can also always reopen otherwise “settled” articles should additional tradeoffs become necessary to settle more contentious issues.

In addition to these “easy” articles, there are others in which there are larger differences in goals or expectations. For these it seems likely that the two sides will need a number of additional meetings and exchanges of language before agreement is reached.

As with all negotiations this spring, the meeting was cordial and included some broad and helpful discussions about the motivations behind some language proposals and about how open the presenters might be to particular concepts that could arise in counter-proposals. The next bargaining session is scheduled for June 18.

Bargaining update for June 4: More language exchanged, some provisional agreements, and discussion of economic context

The ULFA and Board bargaining teams met for a three-hour session on June 4.

The sides had agreed that they would discuss the economic context of negotiations in this meeting and exchange responses to each other’s proposals. (You can follow the status of individual articles here).

Board presentations

The Board side presented responses to the Preamble, Article 3 (Amendments), 7 (Annual meeting), 8 (Delegation) and 10 (Courses taught in addition to assigned teaching duties). They also introduced a new proposal on Article 25 (Supervision and Discipline).

In the case of Articles 7 and 8, the two sides were able to provisionally sign off on the proposed revisions. According to the ground rules we are using for these negotiations, articles that have been initialled are considered approved in principle; final approval, however, depends in each case on approval of the entire agreement.

ULFA presentations

ULFA prepared responses on Articles 1 (Interpretation–Combined with 22 Grievance), 4 (Applications and Exclusions), 5 (Recognition), 9 (Personal files), 22 (Grievance), 23 (Mediation), 27 (Holidays), 28 (Vacations). It presented its language on 27 and 28 before we took a break, halfway through our scheduled meeting time. At the break, ULFA proposed that presentation and discussion of the remainder of these articles be put off until our next meeting, so as to leave sufficient time for the two sides to present about the economic landscape for bargaining.

Discussion of economic contexts

The two sides devoted the second half of the meeting to presentations on the economic context for negotiations. In both cases, these made frequent reference to our main comparators: U of C, U of A, Regina, U of Saskatchewan, and Trent. Mount Royal and Athabasca were also occasionally referred to.

The topics covered by the two presentations included: relative cost of living (housing prices, consumer goods, utilities) in Lethbridge vs the cities of the comparator institutions; levels of University revenue (including tuition revenue and government grants); differences among the salaries paid at the U of L vs. its comparator institutions (including current salary levels by rank, the growth of salaries, and the percentage of the total budget that salaries represent); ratios of temporary (term) to continuing/tenured academic staff positions; and the breakdown and history of the University’s budget allocations. Both sides had questions that will require further research.

ULFA also informed the Board of the areas where members have indicated that improvements to health benefits are most critical, and is provisionally scheduled to make an opening proposal on language pertaining to economic matters (i.e. Schedules A and B) at our next meeting on June 8.

Disagreement over the application of bridging provisions from the Labour Relations Code Section 130(1)

In its first bargaining “primer,” the University of Lethbridge Faculty Association (ULFA) discussed the answer to a common question we have received from our membership: what happens under the Labour Relations Code if the collective agreement expires before we have finished our negotiations?

The short answer is that under the “bridging” provisions of Section 130(1) of the Code, all articles of the collective agreement that were in effect when notice to bargain was given remain in effect until (1) negotiations are concluded; (2) negotiations are interrupted by job action; or (3) two years have passed without ratification of a new contract.

This means, for example, that tenure, academic freedom, and all other provisions of the Handbook remain in effect even after the expiry date of the Handbook until a new contract is ratified, there is a strike or a lockout, or no agreement has been reached after two years of negotiations.

In our blog post, we indicated that the “bridging” provisions also apply to the economic provisions of Schedules A and B: professional supplement, career progress and merit, for example, as well as our annual Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) as agreed to under Schedule A.02.1. Our understanding is that this means that these adjustments are made on an interim basis on July 1, despite the expiry of the contract.

In every case, these contractual provisions can be modified by the terms of any subsequent settlement, meaning, for example, that the parties can agree to changes in career structure or ranks, or decide on a different COLA formula. Whether these changes are applied from the date of ratification, retroactively to the expiry date of the previous contract, or to some other date the parties agree upon is also part of the negotiations.

These rules under the Labour Code are quite different from what happened in practice under the Post-Secondary Learning Act (PSLA): under the PSLA, Terms and Conditions remained in effect until the parties agreed to modify them. Economic benefits were subject to mandatory arbitration in the event no agreement could be reached by the end of the contract. In the event negotiations did continue past the expiry date, the employer’s practice was to observe the previous terms and conditions, but freeze salary adjustments until either an agreement was reached, or an arbitrator made a ruling. The new terms were then instituted retroactively to the expiry date of the contract. Under the PSLA, in contrast to the Code, Faculty Associations had few tools available to them to challenge employer actions in this area.

In the first few negotiating sessions, the Board of Governors’ negotiating team indicated that they disagreed with ULFA’s interpretation of the application of the bridging provisions of Section 130(1) of the Code to our Handbook, particularly with regard to its application to Economic Benefits under Schedule A (this disagreement concerns the application to pay increases such as COLA, career progress, and merit; it does not concern base salary, which both sides agree will continue past the end of the contract until there is a new agreement or job action). Since then, there also has been an informal meeting of non-bargaining representatives from the two sides on the same question, which currently remains unresolved. If no resolution proves possible between the sides, it becomes a question for mediation or the Labour Board.

We will provide updates as this issue develops further.