Bargaining Town Hall – How bad is it?

Update (2021/10/28): see here for details on application for Mediation with Alberta Mediation Services.

Oct. 26, 2021

A Town Hall on the current status of Bargaining was held on October 26th. Prepared remarks were provided by Locke Spencer lead negotiator off 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.

Executive Summary

Bargaining has transitioned from the presentation of initial positions to 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 an agreement on Intellectual Property (IP) and both sides coming closer to agreement on EDI issues.

We are 558 days into the negotiations of this collective agreement (as of Oct. 26) and we have a tentative agreement on 3 Schedules and only 1 Article.  Progress throughout the negotiation process has been very slow. While negotiations drag out, we are losing members to other employers and retirement, and inflation is effectively cutting our salary quite heavily. The Board has refused to accept offers to extend the duration of our previous agreement with no across-the-board adjustment, insisting that we should be negotiating a new agreement. However, the rate of progress in negotiations suggests that we could be years away from settling.

The ULFA negotiation team continues to appreciate member support and engagement in this process in these difficult times, while we work towards securing a collective agreement that helps the University live up to its potential.

Bargaining Update

Following opening remarks, an overview was provided on the current state of bargaining. 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 have held fourteen negotiation meetings (February 8, February 22, March 8, March 22, April 8, April 22, May 20, May 31, June 10, June 17, Sept.20, Sept. 27, Oct. 14, and Oct. 19). 

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) and 1 Article (28 – Intellectual Property);
  • 23 of the 41 have been exchanged more than once (i.e. an opening plus at least one response). 

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. Figure 1 illustrates the distribution of Articles opened during the initial positions of this round of bargaining. Figure 2 illustrates the article exchange that has taken place in this round of negotiations thus far. Figure 3 illustrates which negotiation team is preparing article responses.

Figure 1. Articles left as-is or opened on the Jan 18, 2021 full package exchange. 

Figure 2. The presentation status of Articles during this round of negotiations. 

Figure 3. Which side of the table articles currently reside.

A review of the previous round of negotiations resulting in the 2018-2020 CA was presented. Figure 4 presents the number of iterative proposals required prior to acceptance from both sides in the 2018-20 CA negotiations. Note that some Articles required as many as 14 presentations prior to both sides accepting the language. This progress is illustrated on the cumulative timeline presented in Figure 5, which also illustrates the progress to date for the current negotiations in comparison. Even if a full year is removed from the start of negotiations, we are still significantly behind the pace of the previous round.

An update was provided on the Essential Services Agreement (ESA) negotiations. Both parties have arrived at a mutual agreement regarding the ESA and ULFA has withdrawn its complaint sent to the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) regarding the ESA.

Figure 4. Iterations required for Article agreement during the 2018-2020 CA negotiations.

Figure 5. 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.

Following this comparative overview of the negotiation progress from April 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 to 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, increased recognition for service, promotion with tenure, pay increments with promotion, and the introduction of a Teaching Professoriate.  

The main items desired by each side were summarized in ULFA’s January 18 bargaining update and an overview of articles exchanged is available here.

Following the presentation of some areas where agreement remains challenging, there was discussion of the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for the U of L since 2013, compared with the Alberta Consumer Price Index. Current high rates of inflation continue to erode our compensation. Figure 6 illustrates that since the 1% salary cut in 2013, average ULFA member compensation will have eroded by almost 17% under the Board’s Schedule A proposal. Recognizing the overall challenging institutional circumstances, it was noted that several times in this round of negotiations the ULFA team has offered to extend the previous contract so that efforts can be focussed elsewhere. These offers have not been accepted, so we continue to seek a new collective agreement.

Figure 6. 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 2022 data is estimated based on October 2021 inflation figures.

The discussion then turned to bargaining status with respect to job action timelines. The Alberta Labour Relations Code provides a structured order to the progression of negotiations during collective bargaining and to steps that must be taken before (hopefully to circumvent) any job action. Further discussion of job action timelines is provided here. It was noted that it is currently very difficult to predict when negotiations will conclude. 

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.