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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Faculty Association and Board to Negotiate an Essential Services Agreement and Discuss Negotiating Protocols under the Labour Relations Code

The University of Lethbridge Faculty Association (ULFA) and the Board of Governors of the University of Lethbridge will meet later this Fall to negotiate an Essential Services Agreement (ESA) and discuss other protocols for negotiating under the Labour Relations Code (LRC). The dates for negotiation and discussion are in the process of being set.

Negotiation of an ESA is required by the LRC during each round of bargaining in the Post Secondary Sector. This requirement was introduced by the passage of Bill 7 this past spring, which moved negotiations and labour relations in the sector into the LRC. Previously, negotiations in the Post Secondary Sector were conducted under the Post Secondary Learning Act (PSLA).

Under the LRC, an essential service is defined as

those services

(a) the interruption of which would endanger the life, personal safety or health of the public, or

(b) that are necessary to the maintenance and administration of the rule of law or public security. 95 (1)

By creating an ESA, Management and Unions commit to the maintenance of such services in the event of a lockout or strike. Employees performing such services are allowed to enter the premises of an employer during a lockout and are permitted to cross picket lines without penalty in the event of a strike.

In addition to the ESA, the Board and ULFA will discuss protocols for negotiating under the LRC, which introduces timelines and other rules governing bargaining.

ULFA will be represented by negotiators Paul Hayes and Daniel O’Donnell, with support from resource persons Annabree Fairweather and Terry Sway. The Board will be represented by negotiators Ed Jurkowski and Chris Nicol (co-chairs), Elaine Carlson and Carrie Takeyasu. Scott Harling will act as a resource person for the Board, which has also indicated that it will likely appoint an additional resource person at a future date.

Comparing notes on bargaining at the Fall CAFA Meeting

The Confederation of Alberta Faculty Associations (CAFA) held its first council meeting of the year this past Friday, September 15 in Edmonton. The meeting followed the annual CAFA awards banquet on Thursday evening.

CAFA is an association of the Faculty Associations of Alberta’s four Comprehensive Academic and Research Institutions (CARIs): Athabasca University, the University of Alberta, the University of Calgary, and the University of Lethbridge.

The meeting was a general business meeting, meaning that a full range of Faculty Association business was discussed, from the annual CAFA prizes through Grievance and Labour Board matters, though there was a heavy focus on, of course, the changing bargaining environment.

Lethbridge sent its President, Andrea Amelinckx, and three other delegates from the Executive: Past President David Kaminski, Handbooks Chair/member of the ULFA bargaining team, Daniel O’Donnell, and Executive Director, Annabree Fairweather.

From a bargaining perspective, the most important thing was the opportunity to see how other Associations and Boards are approaching the new environment. Topics discussed included the timing and nature of the new Essential Services Agreement (ESA) required by the Labour Relations Code between Associations and Boards in the Post-Secondary sector, changes to the Post-Secondary Learning Act, and the state of ongoing negotiations and preparation. In addition, participants heard from experts who have experience with the Labour Relations Code in other sectors and from representatives of Faculty Associations in other provinces.

The day before the annual meeting, several Executive Directors and members of Association bargaining teams met in a special workshop focussing on the Essential Services Agreement (ESA), which is a new element our sector must negotiate prior to the start of normal collective bargaining. An ESA addresses essential services during the event of a lockout or a strike, the withdrawal of which would otherwise endanger human life or health.

The awards banquet on Thursday evening was attended by the Minister of Advanced Education, Marlin Schmidt, the Deputy Minister, representatives from the Administrations of various Alberta Universities, members of the Executives of all four CARI Faculty Associations, and the CAFA staff.

Additional information about the CAFA awards programme is available from the CAFA site. A layperson’s guide to the Labour Relations Code is available from the Provincial Government.

The 2017-2018 Economic Benefits Committee

The 2017-2018 Economic Benefits Committee held its first meeting of the year on Tuesday 12 September. The Committee has a number of new and returning members; its chair is Paul Hayes (Chemistry), a former ULFA treasurer. The membership of the 2017-2018 Committee is:

  • Paul Hayes, Chemistry (chair)
  • Andrea Amelinckx, Management (ex officio)
  • James Byrne, Geography
  • Paul Hazendonk, Chemistry & Biochemistry
  • Chad Povey, Physics & Astronomy
  • Olu Awosoga, Health Sciences
  • Vishaal Baulkaran, Management
  • Rumi Graham, Library
  • Annabree Fairweather, Executive Director

ULFA EBC 2017 1ULFA EBC 2017 2
*Photo 1 (L-R): P. Hazendonk, V. Baulkaran, A. Fairweather, P. Hayes, O. Awosoga
**Photo 2 (L-R): C. Povey, D. O’Donnell, R. Graham, O. Awosoga

In addition to the voting members of the Committee, the chair of the Handbooks Committee, Daniel O’Donnell, attended as an observer and resource.

The job of the Economic Benefits Committee is to research, prepare, and advise the Association executive on issues pertaining to the economic welfare of its members. This includes things like salary, benefits, premiums, Professional Supplement, the Tuition Benefit, and so on. These benefits are found in Schedule A and B of the Faculty Handbook. This work involves researching comparable settlements at other universities and in other sectors, discovering the needs of current faculty, and uncovering flaws and strengths in our current arrangements.

The first meeting of the Committee was largely devoted to a discussion of the new labour environment in the Alberta Post Secondary sector, focussing particularly on how this may affect our negotiating practice. Members also reviewed the ULFA code of conduct and familiarised themselves with the Committee’s terms of reference.

In the coming weeks, the Economic Benefits Committee will resume its work from last Spring and Summer: researching likely topics for investigation and reviewing last year’s faculty survey.

The Economic Benefits Committee has a vacancy for a member from the professional faculties. If you are interesting in participating in this capacity or as a (non-voting) volunteer or learing more about it for participation in future years, please contact the chair, Paul Hayes ([email protected]).