Representatives of ULFA and the Board of Governors met on October 12, 2020. The purpose of the meeting was to allow the Board of Governors team to clarify their presentation of the Articles they intended to open.
Prior to the meeting, representatives of the Board contacted the ULFA chief spokesperson in order to express reservations about an ULFA proposal to invite Members to observe bargaining. This is a continuation of a practice that was begun during the last round of negotiations and is intended to develop interest and familiarity in the bargaining process as a way of ensuring succession and diversity on future negotiating teams.
The issue came up again at the beginning of the October 12 negotiating session. After some discussion it was decided that we would move on and that the Board would proceed to discuss the articles they wished to present.
In their presentation, the Board indicated that they are interested in achieving gains in what they described as areas of “financial sustainability” and “flexibility.” In several cases, these appeared to be opposed to items in the ULFA mandate, suggesting that this may be a difficult round of negotiations involving significant give-and-take on both sides.
At the end of the Board’s presentation, discussion turned to next steps. In light of the certainty that tradeoffs will be required, ULFA’s team indicated a desire to discuss “money” (i.e. salary and benefits) and “language” (i.e. terms and conditions) in parallel. This ensures that negotiations are meaningful, because both sides are able to understand the tradeoffs required in reaching agreement.
The Board indicated that they were not authorised to discuss financial matters at this point and, as a matter of “tradition” and principle, preferred to reserve their positions on financial matters, once they were authorised to discuss them, until after negotiations on language were completed.
In ULFA’s view, the Board’s position is compatible with neither tradition nor the obligation to bargain in good faith as required by the Alberta Labour Relations Code. Prior to the last round, negotiations were carried out in parallel at two tables under a completely different legal framework involving different resolution mechanisms. During the last round, “money” items were opened soon after negotiations began, approximately a year before negotiations concluded and most language was negotiated after monetary items were opened.
Likewise, under the code, both sides are obliged to appoint representatives who are authorised to bargain, and to present the articles they wish to discuss within two weeks of the first meeting after a notice to bargain has been issued. While ULFA has been willing to waive the specific time requirements of this latter deadline in recognition of the multiple stresses facing both sides during these exceptional times, meaningful negotiations do require both that both teams are empowered to negotiate money and language and that negotiations take place with an understanding of the full context of both parties’ positions.
After consulting with counsel, ULFA reiterated these concerns to the Board and asked for a meeting to discuss establishing an environment in which meaningful negotiations can occur.