ULFA and Board of Governors Agree to Enhanced Mediation Process

Towards a mediation process (and hopefully a settlement)

On March 1, lawyer-to-lawyer discussions between the Board of Governors and ULFA began about possible paths forward towards voluntary enhanced mediation. This process continued throughout the week and on March 4 both sides signed off on the process under which mediation will take place. While this is a step forward, it is important to be aware that there is no guarantee that any settlement (particularly any fair settlement) will come out of this process. 

This process will include approximately 4 days of mediated negotiation sessions starting on or about March 14th depending upon the schedule of the mediator.  The process agreement also allows for mutual extension if more time is required. Following the mediation, if an agreement does not directly result, the mediator will write a report with recommendations that will be made public and voted on by both sides. Although it’s hard to see how this could happen much sooner than late in March, if all goes to plan this could result in classes resuming. 

This process does differ in some ways from mediation. It is certainly not a settlement in and of itself; rather, it is an agreement on a process by which a settlement could result. The strike and lockout are expected to continue through this process until there is a fair settlement accepted by both parties.

Despite ULFA issuing several unconditional invitations to begin negotiations within the strike/lockout, it has been 22 days since the parties last met at the bargaining table. In this mediation process, parties are expected to meaningfully participate with a genuine intent and reasonable effort in trying to come to an agreement. 

Keeping the pressure

Job action requires focus on the goals. It keeps faculty and students out of the places we all want to be most – our classrooms, labs, and offices. Oftentimes, ongoing faculty and student research suffers. This is compounded by personal worries of lost semesters, missed graduations, and the uncertainties of what immediate and long term impacts to the University community might result. So, why continue?

Foremost, it is because we are deeply committed to the University of Lethbridge community in which we all participate. We want to see it succeed! This means transparent and collegial processes through shared budgetary and advisory decisions; greater equity and employment stability for sessional instructors; and, transparency in how workload equity is determined and achieved. 

These are some of the central improvements ULFA is seeking.

Keeping the pressure on the Board through job action signals how important these improvements are to ULFA as well as to the students and communities that have shown such tremendous support to this point. Keeping the pressure on also reflects the severity of the circumstances that have resulted in the impasse to begin with: the lack of goodwill that we have seen since the ULFA contract expired nearly 2 years ago.

We are not alone

In Canadian history, there has been no shortage of examples of post-secondary job action. The average strike in our sector is 21 days. Most notably is the 143 day strike of CUPE Local 3903, the union representing contract professors, teaching assistants, and graduate assistants at York University in 2018. Close to us both temporally and geographically is the Concordia University of Edmonton strike which ended after nearly 12-days this past January.

Job action, for all that it may be viewed as a last resort, is demonstrably one of the most effective means by which employees can assert their own rights and to ensure transparency in institutional decision-making. It reflects the collective strength not just of ULFA members, but of the University of Lethbridge community as a whole, and our shared vision for a thriving and sustainable future together.

The ULFA negotiation team looks forward to resuming negotiations in the near future and will prepare for this intense process in the coming days. We will keep members informed as dates are set and details arise.