Bargaining Impasse Town Halls

Town Hall meetings providing updates on the current status of Bargaining were held on January 18th and January 21st. Prepared remarks were provided by Locke Spencer, lead negotiator of the ULFA Negotiation team. Following prepared remarks there was time for open questions and general discussion. A summary of the areas discussed is presented below.

These Town Hall meetings follow the withdrawal of the parties from mediation on January 17th, 2022 (see here). Although formal mediation will not continue at this time, the parties had reserved January 25th and January 26th as times available for mediation. The ULFA negotiation team continues to reserve these times for negotiations in the event that the Board team has a new offer to present. The final offers of each party within mediation are provided for information and comparison here. Both the Board’s and ULFA’s offers to settle were created during formal mediation in failed attempts to reach an agreement. The Board rejected our offer which caused us to ask the Mediator for a recommendation. As we have moved out of mediation we are no longer bound to the specific elements of our offer.

Executive Summary

We are 649 days into negotiations for a new collective agreement (as of January 25, 2022) and we have a tentative agreement on only three Schedules (which are to be deleted as no longer relevant), two Articles, and one Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).  Progress throughout the negotiation and mediation process has been very slow. While negotiations drag out, we are losing members to other employers and retirement, and inflation is effectively reducing our salaries quite heavily. We are currently within the 14 day “cooling-off” period following withdrawal of the parties from formal mediation.

Bargaining Before Mediation

The ULFA membership approved the bargaining mandate on April 6th, 2020 at the ULFA AGM. Formal notice to bargain was issued on April 16th, 2020, with the first meeting taking place on June 8, 2020. Since the January 18, 2021 exchange of full proposal packages by the ULFA and Board negotiating teams, the teams held fifteen negotiation meetings prior to meetings held under mediation (February 8, February 22, March 8, March 22, April 8, April 22, May 20, May 31, June 10, June 17, September 20, September 27, October 14, October 19, and October 28).

A summary of collective bargaining up to the point of filing for mediation in October 2021 is provided here.

Informal Mediation

Six informal mediation sessions were held in November and December 2021 (see here). At the commencement of informal mediation, the parties agreed to limit the scope of mediation from the 43 articles and schedules opened in the January 2021 presentation of full packages to approximately 8 articles and schedules, with all other opened items reverting to status quo language from the previous collective agreement. The items remaining open were Articles 5 (Recognition), 6 (Communication), 11 (Rights and Responsibilities), 13 (Assignment of Duties of Members), and 25 (Financial Emergency), and Schedules A (Salary Schedules and Stipends), B (Benefits), and R (Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion).  

Within informal mediation, the two parties came to an agreement on an MOU regarding the reorganization of the collective agreement (see S.07 of the 2018-2020 Collective Agreement and also here). It is important to note that this MOU provides a mechanism to complete the reorganization that was agreed to in Schedule S.07 in the last round of bargaining and is not intended to change either party’s understanding of any of the language to be moved or changed. No other articles were agreed upon during informal mediation.

In the course of informal mediation, the ULFA negotiation team provided the Board team with 76 pages of proposals for consideration. During informal mediation, the Board team proposed one Article and one Letter of Understanding totaling 7 written pages, 4 of which were rescinded. Some verbal offers were also exchanged.

Following the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) approval of the parties’ Essential Services Agreement (ESA) on December 16th, 2021, mediation was switched from informal to formal on December 21, 2021 (see here).

Formal Mediation

Three formal mediation sessions were held in January 2022: January 12th, January 13th, and January 17th. Within formal mediation, the scope of negotiations was provisionally further limited to Articles 5 (Recognition) and 6 (Communication), and Schedules A (Salary Schedules and Stipends), B (Benefits), and R (Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion). The parties were able to agree on Schedule R during the January 12th mediation session. Based on the slow pace of mediation observed thus far, the ULFA negotiating team was directed by the ULFA Executive to either arrive at an agreement or ask the mediator for recommendations by the end of the January 13th session. During the mediation session on January 12th, the Board team and mediator were informed of the ULFA team’s deadline. At the time, the Board team had indicated that after the 13th they would not be available for any further mediation until January 25th. 

The Board negotiation team presented an Offer of Settlement on January 13th, 46 days into mediation. This was the first point within mediation that the Board team presented any written package proposals. It was also the first time that the ULFA negotiation team received in writing a change in the Board position from the originally proposed -4% retroactive rollbacks. The Board package also included status-quo language for Articles 6 (Communication), 11 (Rights and Responsibilities), 13 (Assignment of Duties of Members), and 25 (Financial Emergency).

The ULFA team presented a counter-offer that included some concessions, such as a modified compensation proposal with cost of living adjustment similar to the recent deal offered to the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) union (see here). Although the counter-offer was not accepted and the Board team stated that its offer on compensation was already at their fiscal envelope limit, sufficient progress had been demonstrated for the ULFA Executive to honour a request to extend the mediation deadline from January 13th to the 17th. The Board team indicated they could make themselves available on the 17th in the interests of continuing mediation. 

The Board team presented a revised Offer of Settlement on January 17th. This offer initially rejected ULFA’s proposal for members to shoulder the cost of almost all requested benefit increases that had been included in the ULFA Jan. 13th offer, as well as ULFA proposals in areas relating to collegial governance, joint benefit management, and compensation. After being questioned, however, the Board team sent some corrections that changed their position on the first of these points. The ULFA team followed with a counter-Offer of Settlement, which the Board team verbally rejected. The text of both parties’ offers of settlement that were presented on January 17th are available here.

The Articles and Schedules that remained open within mediation incorporate language on areas including collegial governance, communication, workload, working conditions, salary, benefits, compensation, academic freedom, and job security. While both sides have presented language in these areas, as formal mediation has unfolded, minimal gains on key issues have been proposed to the ULFA negotiation team and it has been made clear that the two parties remain far apart on areas of ULFA bargaining mandate priorities

 In light of this impasse, on Monday January 17th the ULFA negotiating team asked the mediator to end formal mediation. In his report issued January 17,  the mediator stated he has decided not to issue recommended terms of settlement for the parties to accept or reject. This report from the mediator drew formal mediation to a close.

Figure 1. Time to reach agreement on 2018-2020 CA Articles with the start point as the notice to commence bargaining. Also shown is the progress of current negotiations.

Figure 2. Page count of the exchange of proposals by either party during mediation. 

Schedule A: Provincial Context

When the Parties entered negotiations in June 2020, the provincial financial context looked very bleak. Unions were settling for no wage increases, the pandemic was raging, and the economy was struggling. In that context, ULFA twice offered the Board a two-year extension of the current contract (to July 1, 2022) with no salary increase. On each occasion, the Board rejected this offer. Both parties are now including those two years of 0% increases in their proposals.

A number of recent settlements in the public sector in Alberta are relevant to understanding the positions of the Board and ULFA. In particular the Nurses’ union, and Concordia University Edmonton, both have deals that include a retroactive pay component and also are better in areas of cost of living increases than the Board’s current offer. 

An evaluation of compensation erosion due to inflationary pressures in Alberta is presented in Figure 3. Years of 0% Cost of Living Adjustments at the U of L have left members’ salaries increasingly eroding against inflation. At the end of the proposed 4 year deal, under the Board’s proposal, Member salaries will be 14% behind inflation since the 1% rollback in 2013. Member salaries fall ~10%-15% behind compensation with agreed comparator institutions as well. This is of course most injurious to the career earnings of Members who were hired in 2013 or later who have never seen a COLA increase, but have been watching the value of their starting salaries steadily erode. 

In 2013, ULFA Members settled for the worst financial deal in the sector. To do so again would further harm our reputation and our ability to attract and retain high-quality academic staff.

Figure 3. Historical UL COLA values compared with AB-CPI over the same period (top), and Cumulative Effect of UL COLA with inflation/CPI factored in (bottom). The future data is estimated based on financial sector inflation projections/estimates.

For ULFA members, please reach out to ULFA if you have questions or comments, and watch your inboxes for further communication and information.

A post providing further detail on what has led to the current impasse is provided here.

A post providing commentary on specific aspects of proposals within the January 17th Offers of Settlement is available here.

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.