A Town Hall on the current status of Bargaining and the ULFA Job Action Committee (JAC) structure was held on June 23rd. Prepared remarks were provided by Locke Spencer, Andy Hudson, Julia Brassolotto, and Chad Povey on behalf of the ULFA Negotiation, Bargaining Resource, and Job Action committees. Following prepared remarks there was time for open questions and general discussion. A summary of the areas discussed is presented below.
Bargaining is transitioning from the initial position presentation phase to the iterative exploration of priorities and boundaries on both sides. The Board is seeking a 4% salary rollback retroactive to 1 July 2020, restriction of academic freedom and member accompaniment, and significant revisions to the grievance process, member evaluation, career progress and merit, Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA), and the application of Financial Emergency. Recent progress has been made with both sides coming closer to agreement on EDI issues.
The Job Action Committee (JAC) has done a lot of work over the past year and is comprised of six subcommittees with different responsibilities. As discussed in the town hall meeting, JAC is not a strike advocacy group and only acts on the will of the ULFA Membership regarding job action. The Town Hall presentation and summary below provide an overview of the steps leading towards job action, reasons why we need to be prepared for job action, job action logistics, and ways members can remain informed and become more involved.
Following opening remarks, an overview was provided on the current state of bargaining. This round of bargaining began on June 8, 2020.
Since the January 18, 2021 exchange of full proposal packages by the ULFA and Board negotiating teams, the teams have held ten negotiation meetings (February 8, February 22, March 8, March 22, April 8, April 22, May 20, May 31, June 10, and June 17).
In their opening positions, the two sides proposed changes to 41 articles or schedules. Of these
- One side or the other has presented at least an opening position for 39 of them;
- We have reached provisional agreement on 3 schedules (C – Grandfathering Clause for Probationary Appointments, I – Implementation of Academic Assistant/Instructor Language, and K – Student Evaluations of Teaching MOU);
- 18 of the 41 have been exchanged more than once (i.e. an opening plus at least one response).
Figure 1. Negotiation progress summary. For the top row, grey shading indicates no proposed changes, orange shading indicates Board proposed changes, blue shading indicates ULFA proposed changes, and magenta shading indicates both parties proposed changes. For subsequent rows, orange shading indicates a Board presentation, blue shading indicates an ULFA presentation, and green shading indicates tentative agreement.
Attendees were reminded of the 30 June 2020 expiry of our previous Academic Staff Collective Agreement (CA), which included provision for Career Progress and Merit Increments on 1 July 2020 and 1 July 2021 as the evaluation periods were within the 2018-2020 span of the previous agreement.
Following an overview of the framework of negotiation progress from June 2020 to present, discussion touched on some of the main priorities for each side. Of note, the Board is seeking a 4% across the board salary roll-back, retroactive to 1 July 2020 in their current Schedule A offer on the table. The current Board proposals also seek subordinate academic freedom to the operational needs of the university, restrict member rights to accompaniment in supervisory meetings, reduce timelines for filing grievances, and significantly reduce the threshold required to invoke Article 25 (Financial Emergency).
There followed discussion on the ULFA proposal aspirations related to our negotiation mandate. These include increases to compensation and benefits, establishing a joint benefits oversight committee, addressing EDI issues, improving working conditions and workload, restoration and improvements to collegial governance, simplification of the CA, revision of the Intellectual Property conditions to encourage more faculty-driven IP generation, increased recognition for service, promotion with tenure, pay increments with promotion, and the introduction of a Teaching Professoriate.
Following the presentation of some areas where agreement may be more challenging, there was discussion of some recently identified common ground. These include a mutual desire to simplify the CA, faculty-level merit pools and Career Progress increments for instructors, general agreement on the revised EDI article, and areas of workplace safety. The use of gender-neutral pronouns in the CA has been agreed to for some time and is addressed as articles are presented.
Job Action Committee
Job Action Committee Structure/Organization
The Job Action Committee (JAC) is a distinct organization within the larger ULFA organization that handles all of the various aspects of job action preparedness and logistics. The overarching function of JAC is to support the Bargaining Team at the negotiating table and to ensure that all resources, communications and logistics are determined for a coordinated job action, regardless of whether or not job action will take place. The overall organization of the ULFA executive and the JAC is summarized in the infographic below.
Figure 2. Organization of the Job Action Committee with ULFA.
The ULFA JAC is made up of a JAC Chair as well as up to six different JAC subcommittee or task groups. Each JAC subcommittee has a specific delegation and each consists of its own subcommittee chair and members. All members of the JAC are ULFA members and currently we have approximately 30 hard-working and active members that represent a diverse group of Professors, Librarians, Instructors and Academic Assistants from most of the Faculties.
Importantly, JAC is not a strike advocacy group and only acts on the will of the ULFA Membership regarding job action. It is the purview of JAC however, to make all necessary preparations, including details such as job action headquarters, materials, establishment of channels of communication, picketing logistics, and a budget for all therein, well ahead of time in order to have an efficient and effective job action, should this be required by the Membership.
We strongly encourage any ULFA members that would like to help with this round of collective bargaining to do so by reaching out to either the JAC Chair or JAC Subcommittee Chairs. A current list of JAC Chair members can be found on the ULFA JAC website (https://www.ulfa.ca/job-action-committee/).
Job Action Timeline
Job action typically falls into two types: a strike, in which a union withdraws its labor from the workplace, or a lockout, where the employer prevents employees from accessing the workplace. In order for job action to be legal, it has to satisfy a number of criteria under Canadian and Alberta labour laws.
One of the key details for a strike to occur in Alberta is that there is a positive majority strike vote by the membership. Consider a strike vote as notification by the association membership whether or not the current Board offer on the negotiation table is acceptable. Importantly, just because a strike vote is positive, does not mean that the union has to strike, but only that the union executive is empowered to hold a legal strike.
There is a fairly structured order to the progression of negotiations during collective bargaining and steps taken before, and hopefully to circumvent, a possible job action event. The table below breaks this process into eight separate steps that are summarized here:
Table 1. Summary of Job Action progression.
Under this framework, in our current state of negotiations we are mostly in Stage 3, however, our current agreement has expired (i.e., Stage 4). Negotiations are still ongoing and thus at this point there is still a relatively low probability of job action.
Job Action Preparation
Job action is something most members do not want to have to do. It, however, has been ruled by the Canadian Supreme court that every union has the right to participate in job action. This means job action is now a tool we need to learn to use in order to get a fair deal. If left unprepared we could face lockouts in the future that would leave us scrambling to catch up. Our best defence against having to perform job action is to have a well organized plan. A few things to remember here are that the JAC and ULFA work for YOU the members, strike votes do not always lead to job action, and solidarity among the members creates strength within our group.
What happens during a picket?
- ULFA members would withdraw labour until a settlement is reached. Labour withdrawal includes cessation of member:
- Course work (lecturing, grading, etc.),
- Committee work,
- Library work, including collections, copyright, teaching, and research assistance,
- Service to the university and/or university-related community work, and
- Administrative duties
- During a strike, ULFA employees are not permitted to access the UL campus except to maintain essential research and/or care activities (as outlined in the ESA).
- ULFA members on leave will also be considered on leave from picket duties as well.
- ULFA members would be required to participate in strike activities (e.g. picketing) in order to receive strike pay.
- ULFA members who participate in assigned job action duties can expect $150 / day of non-taxable strike pay for each calendar day of the strike (including weekends):
For a strike lasting one month (30 days):
$150/day x 30 days = $4,500 tax-free pay
- Members would maintain core benefits (i.e. dental, vision, group life insurance, Long Term Disability insurance, employee and family assistance program, and extended health). Members remain responsible for full premiums on optional benefits, and benefit coverage remains as it is normally configured outside of job action.
- We have calculated that Members earning under $90,000/year are unlikely to see a drop in their net (take home) pay at this level of strike pay.
- For Members earning more than $90,000, the difference should be approximately $250 less in take home pay, per month, for every $5,000 in regular gross salary above $90,000. Our recommendation is that Members earning above $90,000 plan on saving 7% of their net monthly salary (i.e. after taxes) for every month they anticipate we might be on strike or locked out. The average strike in the post-secondary is 21 days.
- There are 4 possible picket locations identified, each with 3 shifts a day (12 shifts daily). With 12 shifts a day we will need a minimum of 12 picket captains. The possibility of an additional Calgary picket location is still being explored.
- 500 picketers (approx. all members):
Sites 1,2,3: 50 people per shift at each site (~450 per day)
Site 4 (Penny building): 15 people per shift (45 per day)
- Each member should acquire a minimum of 20hrs a week for strike pay. Each shift is about 4.5hrs which works out to 22.5hrs a week for each member.
Figure 3. Map of Lethbridge main campus picket locations
- We are still working on a final policy for picket exemptions. This policy should cover any documented disabilities, members physically unable to perform certain duties, or other considerations that might prevent members from being able to actively picket. These members may be given alternate duties as their assigned picket shifts to help with the strike.
Not Necessarily Job Action, but Job Action if Necessary
This has already been a very disrupted/disruptive year, so why are we even talking about potential job action?
- Although we don’t want job action, we have to be prepared for it. Being well-prepared for a strike is truly the best way to avoid it. A strong strike vote is one of our strongest tools at the bargaining table. Generally, across the sector, it is rare that employers move significantly in negotiations without a strike vote.
- Not everyone at the U of L is well-paid and our working conditions vary. We are thinking about our more precariously employed members, our junior members, our equity-seeking members, and our future members. Although some members may be well compensated and have excellent working conditions, this is not universal across the institution. We have a responsibility to advocate for all of our members.
- Our compensation falls short in contrast to our comparator institutions by more than 10%. This is an issue for recruitment and retention. It’s also about fair compensation for our labour.
- When economic times are good and there is more funding available, we don’t see that manifest in wage increases or improvements to benefits. There were rollbacks in years past that were never returned to our salaries when the economy was booming. Every year without COLA is a rollback. It will be a race to the bottom if we don’t challenge these proposals.
- While we do not anticipate a lockout, should we be locked out our only protection would be a countervailing strike. In the (unlikely) event of a lockout by our administration, our contract would become null and void. If we did not hold a countervailing strike, we would be expected to return to work afterward on terms entirely dictated by the employer, rather than under a negotiated settlement.
What Can Association Members Do Right Now?
- Stay informed. Keep an eye out for blog posts and emails from ULFA.
- Participate in ULFA surveys. Expect more of these in September as negotiations progress. It is important that members respond quickly so that we can gauge sentiments and represent these interests at the negotiating table.
- Attend a secondary picket, if/when possible.
- Request a “support our college and universities” lawn sign to show your support.
- Take action. Write an op-ed for the Herald. Talk to your colleagues. Post about supporting PSE on social media. Amplify work being done by others. Get creative.
- Get more involved with ULFA. Join a JAC subcommittee. We always welcome new members.
More details on the work of the Job Action Committee can be found here.
You can follow the status of all Articles opened during this round of negotiations here.