The Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) ruled in favour of the core position taken by the University of Lethbridge Faculty Association (ULFA) yesterday in its dispute with the University of Lethbridge.
The case concerned the number of bargaining units and collective agreements to be negotiated between the University and ULFA under the changes to the Post Secondary Learning Act (PSLA) and Labour Relations Code introduced by Bill 7 (You can read more about the history of this case working backwards from this post).
The specific issue before the ALRB was the legal question:
Does the Code allow for or preclude the possibility of more than one bargaining unit for the academic staff and/or more than one collective agreement for the academic staff? (¶ 2)
In its submission, the University administration argued that
- The PSLA left the number of agreements up to the parties to determine;
- The University and ULFA historically had negotiated two distinct agreements (i.e. the Sessional Lecturers’ Handbook and the Faculty Handbook);
- The Labour Relations Code required the continuation of these two agreements as distinct collective agreements. (see ¶ 3)
ULFA, for its part, disagreed with the University’s characterisation of the historical situation, particularly the degree to which the two Handbooks represented completely distinct agreements. With regard to the legal question at issue, it argued
- That the Code established the Faculty Association as the exclusive bargaining agent for a single Bargaining Unit (i.e. the “Academic Staff”) consisting of both Sessional Lecturers and Faculty;
- That the Code precluded the possibility of more than one bargaining unit for the Academic Staff under the current legislative arrangements;
- That the Code precludes the possibility of there being more than one collective agreement to cover this single bargaining unit under the current legislative arrangements. (see ¶ 4)
In its decision, the ALRB upheld the core elements of ULFA’s position, concluding that there was both one bargaining unit under the Code and that the Code precludes the negotiation of more than one collective agreement for that unit:
[T]he PSLA and the Code create a single designated bargaining unit (all academic staff); however, parties may negotiate two or more collective agreements which may contain scope clauses that individually do not comprise all of the designated bargaining unit. The Code precludes more than one collective agreement being negotiated where one of the parties maintains the position that a single collective agreement shall be negotiated for all employees in the designated bargaining unit. Appropriate notice of this position must occur at the commencement of collective bargaining. (¶ 6)
The main place in which the ALRB diverged from the position taken by ULFA and the intervenors concerned the idea that the parties could negotiate more than one collective agreement for a given Bargaining Unit, provided they both agree explicitly to do so. This has potentially profound implications for labour relations in the province. Since ULFA has already indicated that it “maintains the position that a single collective agreement shall be negotiated for all employees in the designated bargaining unit,” however, the question is moot for the purposes of our current negotiations: the ALRB’s decision means that the Sessional and Faculty Handbooks represent a single collective agreement under the Code.