Fall Welcome Back Bargaining Update

On September 20th, representatives of the Board and ULFA negotiation teams will hold their eleventh bargaining session since the exchange of full proposals on January 18, 2021. This post serves as a summary of our current status, and an update on what has taken place since our scheduled negotiation sessions on Aug. 9th and 12th were cancelled by the Board negotiation team. The gap between the 10th and 11th negotiation sessions has been just shy of 14 weeks — equivalent to an entire semester.

Changes to Board Negotiating Team

The Board’s negotiation team welcomes three new members: Dr. Robert Wood as Lead Negotiator, Dr. Harold Jansen, and Dr. Richelle Marynowski. Linda Van der Velde (from Human Resources) remains on the Board negotiation team. The new members replace three departures: Dr. Chris Nicol is on administrative leave, and Dr. Kelly Williams-Whitt as well as Dr. Mary Ingraham have accepted positions at other universities.

Board rejects new offer to extend Collective Agreement

In August, ULFA sent a written proposal to the new Board team, offering to extend the existing Collective Agreement for two years (to June 30, 2022). This offer was made in light of the numerous changes to the Board negotiating team, the slow pace at which negotiations have proceeded (it has been more than a year since our contract expired), and the ongoing necessity for everyone at the university to prioritize pandemic response. The Board team refused our offer.

Brief Negotiation History

ULFA’s last collective agreement (which was ratified by the members on June 18, 2019) expired on June 30, 2020. The union issued a formal Notice to Bargain on April 16, 2020, and the Board responded, naming its bargaining team on May 1, 2020. ULFA’s Notice to Bargain included a proposal to extend the existing Collective Agreement for one year, in order to allow everyone to focus on the pandemic crisis.

A first negotiating meeting was held on June 4, 2020, later than the 30 days allowed under the Labour Relations Code. At that point the sides had 15 days to exchange initial proposals. The sides mutually agreed to extend this timeline to meet again in three to four weeks, with the understanding that ULFA would provide a formal proposal for extending the Collective Agreement in the meantime. The next meeting was in fact not held until July 24, at which time ULFA agreed to give the Board until mid-September to consider the proposal to extend the Collective Agreement. The Board subsequently wrote to ULFA rejecting this proposal, and the teams met again on September 22 to discuss their respective mandates. Through the Fall of 2020 the sides met several more times, but the Board team informed ULFA that they did not have a financial proposal that they could provide to ULFA’s team. (This was a common theme across post-secondary negotiations; we later learned that the Alberta Provincial Bargaining Coordination Office provided post-secondary institutions with bargaining mandates relating to financial matters no later than the 3rd week of October 2020.) The sides ultimately agreed to an ULFA proposal to pause bargaining until January 18, 2021, at which time full packages would be exchanged, including proposals on financial matters

Despite numerous efforts by ULFA to increase the pace of negotiations, the sides have met just 10 times since the exchange of complete proposals in January 2021.

Negotiation Current Status

With the exchange of full packages in January 2021, 41 Articles and Schedules were opened for negotiation. Of these, all but 2 have been presented at the negotiation table at least once, 18 have seen at least one counter-proposal, 5 have seen multiple proposal iterations, and 3 have been tentatively agreed upon.

The negotiation teams have identified a small number of items of common interest and both sides of the table have article responses in preparation as negotiation sessions resume this semester.

There remains distance between the two sides in many important areas in the collective agreement. Some of these items are of high priority within the ULFA negotiation mandate.  These largely fall in the areas of total compensation, working conditions, workload and job security, academic freedom, and governance. Several of these have been the subject of far fewer exchanges than one would normally expect at this point in negotiations.

Key Differences

A concise summary of Board proposals currently on the table that are significantly divergent from ULFA positions follows.

With respect to total compensation, the current Board proposal on the table is a 4% rollback in salary, retroactively effective 1 July 2020, as part of a 4-year agreement (with 3 years of no salary adjustments). The Board has also proposed zero-sum merit and career progress changes that will reduce any associated salary increases for most ULFA members (without reducing Board costs as a small number of members will see significant increases). Information required to allow a fulsome discussion on the costing of benefit improvements proposed by ULFA was requested by ULFA but has not yet been received. The Board has proposed no changes to benefits but has indicated willingness to contemplate adjustments under the condition that any improvements are balanced by corresponding cuts to total compensation, to maintain a 4% savings overall.

With respect to working conditions, workload, and job security, many of the changes proposed by the Board will have a negative impact on the most vulnerable groups within the ULFA membership. These changes include erosion of the working conditions of term members to match those of sessionals, such that, for example, both could be terminated without cause. Other changes include removal of rights to accompaniment for all members in meetings with administration, assignment of duties without the member’s consent, shorter timelines for grievance applications, and a significantly reduced threshold for declaration of financial emergency and restructuring. 

Currently proposed changes from the Board would also reduce ULFA representation on campus, reduce ULFA’s ability to perform its legislated responsibilities by reducing the provision of relevant information, and reduce ULFA finances and hence ULFA’s ability to advocate for members.

The current Board proposal for Academic freedom subjugates it to organizational and institutional needs — i.e., subject to the business interests of the institution.

The above Board proposals diverge significantly from ULFA’s positions on these issues, and present a variety of challenges as we look to move towards a collective agreement that works for all of the ULFA membership and is acceptable to the Board. 

You can follow the status of all Articles opened during this round of negotiations here.