Collective Agreement Reorganisation

Executive Summary

The ULFA-Board Collective Agreement (CA) has been extensively reorganised. This reorganisation was done by a joint working group agreed to during the mediation which brought the February-March job action to an end. The group worked through the spring and summer to produce an extensive reorganisation of the CA language, without changing its meaning (to understand the reorganisation in detail, you can compare the ratified package [explained in detail here] against the final signed agreement). 

This process, which has been an ULFA priority for several rounds of negotiations, has resulted in a CA that is organised as much as possible around Member career stages and appointment types. Generalised information involving all job categories has been consolidated, with differences for specific categories provided in parallel sections. The order of the articles has also been revised into thematic sections and by the frequency of anticipated use.

While this means that the order of the articles has been considerably rearranged, the resulting document should be much easier to use by Members, Committees, and members of the Administration. 

This post provides details on the new organisation with a background to the work that produced it. It concludes with a discussion of what needs to be done in future work. 

Navigating the New Collective Agreement

The main goals of the reorganisation were:

  • To create single, unified articles that cover each of the main procedures (e.g. appointment, promotion, etc.) that apply to multiple staff categories. Where the procedures differ, the differences are split out in consecutive clauses;
  • To merge duplicate or substantially similar clauses wherever possible, to simplify and streamline the Collective Agreement; and
  • To organise the articles of the Collective Agreement in a coherent fashion, with sections to more clearly delineate pieces that apply to different categories of staff.

As a result of the work of the committee, the 2020-2024 Collective Agreement is divided into five “Sections”:

  1. “ULFA-Board Relations” consists of Articles 1-9, and covers issues such as communication, grievances, and other matters that relate to how the union and management at the University of Lethbridge interact.
  2. “Applicable to ALL Members” consists of Articles 10-20, and covers issues that affect Members in any job category individually during their career. The Articles within this section are organised in the order in which they might reasonably arise in a Member’s career, beginning with appointment and ending with termination. Between these are a variety of articles covering issues including equity, diversity, and inclusion considerations; what constitutes appropriate evidence for assessing teaching effectiveness and other evaluation criteria; holidays; and vacations. 
  3. “Applicable to all Members EXCEPT Sessional Lecturers” consists of Articles 21-34. It covers a variety of matters that are not available to, or do not apply to, Sessional Lecturers (at least in the manner described). Again an effort has been made to group related Articles and to arrange them into an order that might reasonably correspond to the order or frequency with which they apply to Members. They begin with how duties are assigned, and the impacts of overload courses; all PAR expectations and evaluation procedures have been united into a single Article, which is followed by a separate article on how these translate into salary increments; next is an Article detailing all of the Personnel Committees’ structures and responsibilities, followed by a generic Article about the procedures that apply to any STP committee case (excluding increment appeals), and individual Articles about the procedures that STP committees decide upon (probation/continuing appointment/tenure, and promotion), and appeal procedures. The section concludes with a handful of Articles dealing with other matters: the research and travel funds; leaves of absence; gradual retirement and reduced load status; and financial emergency.
  4. “Job Category Specifics” consists of Articles 35-38 and includes one Article for each job category (Faculty Members, Professional Librarians, Instructors and Academic Assistants, and Sessional Lecturers). With most of the language through the rest of the Collective Agreement now applying to all Members (or to all except Sessional Lecturers), these Articles are greatly simplified. They largely consist of ranks, along with specific expectations for evaluation criteria and how they apply to cases of continuing appointment/tenure and promotion. The Sessional Lecturer Article is more detailed, as it includes specific procedures around matters such as Right of First Refusal, and a much more limited right to leaves of absence.
  5. “Schedules” consists of Schedules A-Z. These have not been reordered. Schedule A is about salary, and B is about benefits. Schedules C and D are forms. Most of the remaining Schedules are Memoranda of Understanding that were signed in response to a grievance and have some ongoing relevance for interpreting language in the Collective Agreement, or addressing an unusual situation that has been resolved and serves as a precedent. Schedules E-N were in the previous Collective Agreement; Schedules O-T were signed after the 2018-2020 Collective Agreement took effect but prior to the conclusion of bargaining for the 2020-2024 Collective Agreement. Schedules U-Y describe time-limited agreements that were reached during collective bargaining, including the agreement to establish this Working Group. Schedule Z gives the term of the Collective Agreement.

Although the new organisation will take some getting used to, particularly for those who used the Collective Agreement regularly, all members of the Working Group believe that the new structure is more user-friendly and easier to navigate. We hope that you agree.  

Background and History to the Reorganisation

Prior to negotiations for the 2018-2020 Collective Agreement, ULFA successfully argued to the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) that the division of our Collective Agreement into two separate written documents, one covering Sessional Lecturers and one covering all other Members, was inappropriate. At the same time, ULFA, like other faculty associations across the province, were designated as unions under the Labour Relations Code through legislation passed by the Alberta legislature in response to a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that the right to strike is fundamental to labour negotiations. One outcome of these matters was that during those negotiations the “Sessional Lecturers Handbook” and the “Faculty Handbook” were integrated into a single “Collective Agreement” covering all Members of the academic staff at the University of Lethbridge.

As the ULFA negotiating team prepared proposals for negotiations for the 2018-2020 “unified” CA a number of other issues came to our attention:

  • Clauses about the Professional Activity Report and evaluation procedures were scattered throughout the Handbook, with pieces appearing in seven different articles. Practically speaking, this made it challenging for Members (and Deans)  to complete the required procedures on a frequent basis.
  • Separate clauses existed for different categories of academic staff covering the same topics, but some of the details of this language had diverged over the years. 
  • Many processes had been written in articles that nominally applied only to Faculty Members, but clauses in Articles 14 (Professional Librarians) or 15 (Instructors and Academic Assistants) indicated that the same articles should be used for the corresponding processes for those staff members, sometimes with minor specific adjustments. Particularly with respect to STP processes, this often led to confusion around procedures. As an example, when considering a Continuing Appointment for an Instructor, the STP committee was supposed to follow directions in Article 15 (Instructors and Academic Assistants) and use the process laid out in Article 20.03 (Procedure for Promotion of Faculty Members) with specific changes to the wording of some of the motions. The language in Article 20.03 was written specifically for promotion of Faculty Members, and was not generic language that could always be modified in obvious ways to suit a situation like this.
  • There was no clear intentional division between language that appeared in Article 21 (Increments) and Article 31 (Salary, Career Progress, Merit, and Benefits). Anyone seeking information about salary matters would have to consult both, in addition to Schedule A.
  • The order of the articles in the Collective Agreement did not have any clear rationale. Rather, new articles had generally been added to the end, to limit changes to article numbers as much as possible.

Part of ULFA’s bargaining mandate was a proposal to address these issues, including merging the two Handbooks, and making various improvements to existing language.

But even merging the two Handbooks was not a straightforward process. There were many places where the union and the employer disagreed as to how the two documents interacted, and as to whether or not Sessionals should be covered by various clauses in what had been the Faculty Handbook. Understandably, the Board team balked at the prospect of correcting the organisational problems that ULFA had identified. In the end, a compromise was reached in Schedule S of the 2018-2020 Collective Agreement. This Schedule bound the negotiating teams to address ULFA’s proposals for reorganisation during negotiations for the 2020-2024 Collective Agreement.

Most of you will be familiar with the situation that we faced during the most recent round of collective bargaining, which included our first strike and the employer’s first lock-out, and which was ended only through an enhanced mediation process. Despite their previous agreement to negotiate a reorganisation, during these negotiations the Board team proved reluctant to engage in a thorough-going revision. After considerable discussion and disagreement, it became apparent that the root of this reluctance lay in the difficulty of separating negotiations about the reorganisation from that involving substantively different language. 

Ultimately, a compromise was reached, establishing a Working Group that would work together after all other matters had been agreed upon to follow through on the reorganisation that had been agreed to in Schedule S. The working group’s mandate was explicitly not intended to make any substantive changes to language, except to the degree that clarifications around what language applies to what categories of staff might be considered substantive.

The Working Group

The members of the Working Group were:

  • Harold Jansen, University Librarian and Board Negotiating Team Member (Chief Negotiator toward the end of negotiations);
  • Linda van der Velde, Senior Human Resources Consultant and Board Negotiating Team Member;
  • Joy Morris, Professor of Mathematics and ULFA Negotiating Team Member;
  • Aaron Chubb, ULFA Executive Officer and Negotiating Team Member.

Toward the end of the process, Julie Henderson (Human Resources staff) and Karl Laderoute (ULFA staff) stepped in to help with cross-referencing, proofreading, and other final tasks.

The Working Group met together more than 20 times from early April through mid-June to complete the bulk of the reorganisation work, and continued to work on finalising details until late August. Dozens of additional hours between meetings were devoted to preparing and reviewing language.

ULFA Working Group representatives prepared new versions of all reorganisation proposals that eliminated substantive changes. These were presented, and reviewed by Board representatives, who generally either accepted them or pointed out minor but nonetheless substantive differences that ULFA representatives had overlooked.

Going Forward

As noted above, in order to avoid making substantive changes outside of collective bargaining, the Working Group left quite a lot of places in the new Collective Agreement where a general statement is made, and then subtle differences for different job categories are detailed. For many of these the Board representatives did not object to unified language, but did not feel that they had the authority to choose from the different wordings. In other cases, it was clear that the union would prefer one version of the language to apply to everyone, and management would prefer a different version. Where the differences are not large, these are matters that should be easy to resolve in the give and take of future collective bargaining. 

In the new format, differences between language that apply to different job categories in similar situations are juxtaposed and are thereby made obvious. Sometimes these differences are the result of important distinctions between positions and responsibilities, but more often they have simply diverged unintentionally over time. 

It is ULFA’s intention to consider these divergences and discuss with Members which we should attempt to reduce or eliminate, and how. Proposals for further unifying Collective Agreement language across job categories are expected to be an important component of ULFA’s next bargaining mandate. As you make use of the Collective Agreement over the next two years, please take note of processes and procedures in which you would like to see Members treated more uniformly, and bring these to the attention of ULFA staff or any member of the Bargaining Resource Committee.