Members of the University of Lethbridge Faculty Association Executive (ULFA) and other academic staff met several times with representatives of the provincial government in Lethbridge on Feb. 26.
The meetings were both informative and reassuring. Among the main takeaways:
- The government is committed to stable and predictable funding for the Post-Secondary sector, in keeping with its election promises and previous actions: “Past behaviour is the best predictor of future action” one official said.
- The government provides operating funds to the University, we were told, but does not instruct management as to how those funds should be spent or how to bargain with its employees.
- The provincial government would look very unfavourably on any attempt by employers to force employees into concession through job action.
Taken together, these comments suggest a very positive environment for negotiations this Spring.
At the February 15 Board of Governors meeting, Vice President Finance Nancy Walker submitted a proposal “to operate under the same operating and restricted funds budget for 2018-2019 that was approved by the Board of Governors for the 2017-2018 fiscal year until we are informed of our 2018-2019 Campus Alberta grant.” The information we received, however, indicates that the University can expect the stable and predictable funding it has been promised and has received thus far in each year of this government’s term.
The indication that there is no provincial mandate for negotiations in 2018 in the Post Secondary sector also answers rumours that suggested that university administrations had been given secret targets for wage concessions by the government. In keeping with past behaviour, the government is committed to stable, though not opulent, funding for the sector and university administrations have the freedom to negotiate in good faith with employee groups on campus. In previous years, with similar funding under this government, the university administration has shown itself to be willing to reach fair wage settlements with ULFA.
The final point addresses concerns about the structural disparity between employers and employees in the post-secondary sector introduced as a result of Bill 7 last year (the bill that introduced Strike/Lockout as a Supreme Court required mechanism for resolving negotiation impasse). Although Unions need to save funds over time in order to establish a job action fund, employers do not need to save in order to support a lockout: it is as expensive (or cheap) for employers to lock out academic staff this year as it will be ten years from now; unions, on the other hand, are as a rule far less able to withstand job action this year than they will be in a decade once they establish sufficient defense funds. This gives employers a potential structural advantage in negotiations, perhaps encouraging them to demand more concessions than they might otherwise expect to win were the two sides more equally able to withstand job action.
This has always been less of a concern at the U of L: since ULFA members voted to establish a job action fund in 2016, the union has had time to build a fund that is already sufficient to protect members in the event of job action. The government’s indication that it expects there to be no job action in this current round of negotiations does not considerably reduce the risk of miscalculation on either side, however.
The Provincial budget is expected March 22nd, at which point clarity and certainty will be realised. We anticipate that negotiations will begin soon after the budget is tabled.
This post is intended to update the membership of ULFA about the current state of negotiations between the Union and the University. The information it contains is provided without prejudice and is intended for a general, non-specialist audience. While every effort has been made to ensure that the information this post contains is accurate, it does not represent an official legal or negotiating position. In the event of a disagreement between this post and an official notice or document, the official document is correct.