On February 8th and 9th, with a strike deadline looming, the Board and ULFA negotiation teams held their fourth and fifth negotiation sessions following the close of formal mediation on January 17th. The February 1st and 4th negotiation sessions are reported here, and the February 7th session is reported here. The February 8th session consisted of the Board team providing a 52 page proposal largely reiterating their former positions on Articles 2, 5, 6, 15, 18, 21, 31, 32, 34, and Schedule A, but with a number of modest concessions to ULFA proposals on these articles. The ULFA team was pleased to see the Board team responding to Articles that they had objected to having reopened, in their complaint to the Alberta Labour Relations Board. However, when the ULFA negotiation team asked to be pointed to the areas within this document that included any concessions worth noting on the union’s bargaining mandate priorities, the response was instead a list of union mandate items that had not been included.
Later in the day, the Board team also presented a proposal on Article 12. This was their second proposal on this article, the first having been presented on February 22nd, 2021. The ULFA team waited in caucus while the Board team prepared this document, which they said they had not had time to complete prior to the meeting. While there was some motion on the recognition of service, and we do feel that we are close on this article, by itself this falls incredibly short as a step toward reaching agreement on a ratifiable settlement, in particular in the 48 hours before job action is set to take place.
The start of the February 9th negotiation session was delayed by almost two hours as the Board team was preparing additional proposals. A document containing the entire collective agreement was provided, with absolutely no changes from previous Board proposals. It was unclear how this document was a productive use of negotiating time so close to a strike deadline.
Following another caucus, an additional document was provided by the Board team, showing a revised schedule A, along lines that had been discussed with the ULFA team the previous day. This proposal included fixed dollar increases to base salary, instead of percentages. However, these figures were provided at values that would result in a total cost to the Board equivalent to what had been included in their January 17th offer (late 1.25% in year 3, late 1.5% in year 4 with an additional possibility of a late 0.5% in year 4). These February 9th proposals provided no compelling movement from the Board team on any of ULFA’s mandate themes of salary, benefits, workload or other important language items.
The ULFA team expressed their disappointment with this offer and returned to the negotiating table just before noon to provide a counter offer in the form of a package that could be accepted as a complete Memorandum of Settlement. This package acknowledged some Board positions (such as the workload involved in evaluating Members for salary increments) and provided a number of concessions (including an MOU to move forward together on establishing structures for a Teaching Professoriate, in place of including any new structure in this Collective Agreement). This package offer will expire at 10:59 a.m. on February 10, and ULFA’s negotiating positions will revert to February 4th offers at that time if the offer has not been accepted. The teams separated at about 12:15 p.m. to give the Board team time to consider this package.
Shortly after 3:20 p.m., the Board team came back with a proposal to accept all of the concessions included in ULFA’s package, while offering no motion on any other point within the Articles on the table. For the second time in the same day the ULFA team expressed their extreme disappointment with a pattern of surface bargaining and suggested that with this proposal the Board team had signaled very clearly that they want a strike and are unwilling to do anything to prevent it.
ULFA’s Chief Negotiator Locke Spencer reminded the Board team that if secret government mandates make the Board feel unable to move on financial terms, it has complete freedom to make strong concessions on language in order to reach a settlement, and that inflexibility is not bargaining. He added that ULFA members are aware that the provincial mandate does not cover any of the language areas of the Collective Agreement and that rigidity around ULFA proposals to improve working conditions is coming directly from the institutional leadership. Spencer also noted that we do need to work together following the conclusion of negotiations and the Board’s recent behaviour is not in any way conducive to productive working relations. Furthermore, the Board position of accepting Members’ money to co-fund improvements within the Collective Agreement, while declaring any requests for co-direction within the Collective Agreement as out of bounds, is a position of hypocrisy. Spencer suggested that the Board’s negotiating team does not appear to have the authority of the University Board of Governors to negotiate at this time, and that this leaves Members with no choice but to proceed with a strike, in which serious, and perhaps even irreparable, harm will come to the reputation of the institution and to its students.
The ULFA team concluded the session by indicating its refusal to bargain against itself in negotiations and insisting that the Board team bring a proposal that includes substantial concessions to the table.
You can follow the status of all Articles opened during this round of negotiations, including changes that have taken place within mediation, here (progress outside of mediation is available here).