Impasse Reached in Formal Mediation

I am writing to let you know that the mediation stage of our negotiations with the Board has come to an end. 

At the conclusion of mediation on Monday, our negotiating team asked the Mediator to provide a report on the current state of negotiations. Essentially, this means that the team believes that negotiations have reached a state of impasse, and that additional pressure may be required to break the impasse. In the Mediator’s letter, he has decided not to issue a recommendation on terms of settlement for the parties to accept or reject, concluding that the two sides are too far apart. This opens the door to a strike vote as the next tool that may be required to reach a fair settlement. Such a vote cannot take place until the end of a two week “cooling-off” period that begins today.

Our Negotiating Team will hold several townhalls in the next two weeks to discuss the current state of negotiations, explain where the areas of impasse lie, and to address all questions and concerns from the Membership. We will also be able to answer questions about the possible timing and implications of any strike vote and, in the event it becomes necessary, job action (whether a strike or a lockout). Our Job Action Committee has previously posted a primer on job action here (note that in the primer, we are now at stage 6 on the typology). They will be posting additional information in the next few days. 

The first townhall will be held tomorrow on Zoom at 1pm. A second townhall is scheduled for Friday at 10:30. An additional invitation will be issued shortly. You are highly encouraged to attend at least one of the offerings. Log-in information is being sent to members by email.

How did we get here?

Today’s session was the ninth since the Board unilaterally called for the appointment of a mediator in late October. While there has been some movement around the edges during the time, the Board has shown very little willingness to engage with the principal mandate items voted on by our members almost two years ago and which more recent surveys show are continuing concerns:

  • Address salary erosion relative to our agreed-upon comparator institutions
  • Address deficiencies in benefits relative to our agreed-upon comparator institutions, including through transparent, joint stewardship of our contributions
  • Ensure equitable workloads and job security
  • Improve collegial governance
  • Improve working conditions for sessional lecture and term appointees

What little movement we have seen has mostly focussed on the dropping of unrealistic opening positions by the Board team:

  • A proposal to subordinate Academic Freedom to the business needs of the University
  • An opening financial position of a retroactive -4% salary roll back
  • A proposal to reduce barriers to invoking the layoff provisions of our financial emergency language
  • Restrictions to ULFA accompaniment

Several of these proposals were worst-in-sector and none had any realistic chance of being agreed to. 

  • The initial financial offer made by the Board was 1% lower than the Government mandate as reflected at the negotiating table of most other Universities in the Province (they have since replaced it with the government’s better offer, reflecting the recent settlement between the Province and AUPE, but this is still below what we are seeing at other tables, including the United Nurses of Alberta and Concordia University of Edmonton Faculty Association (CUEFA)). 
  • The language on Academic Freedom would allow a situation at ULFA to occur similar to that recently seen in Florida, where the University refused to allow Faculty to testify in areas of expertise in order to avoid angering the state government. 
  • Restricting accompaniment would mean that Members would not be able to access real-time advice from their union representatives. 

What’s next?

The next step is a two week “cooling off period” after which your representatives can ask the Alberta Labour Relations board for a supervised strike vote. If a majority of ULFA Members vote in favour of a strike mandate for our Negotiating Team, we will be in a legal strike position 72 hours later. 

This does not mean that we are automatically on strike. It simply means that the membership has given your representatives a mandate to call a strike should further bargaining fail. 

A strong strike vote provides the ULFA Negotiating Team with crucial additional leverage at the bargaining table in reaching a fair deal; a weak or a failed strike vote would do just the opposite. Negotiations may continue throughout this process and most disputes are settled during this period without job action. As the recent ten-day strike at Concordia University Edmonton demonstrates, moreover, when strikes occur, they tend to be relatively short. The ULFA strike fund is very strong and can support members with very good strike pay for much longer than the average length of a Post Secondary strike in Canada.

Looking forward

I know that this will be stressful news to many Members. Nobody likes to see negotiations break down and we as a union have never faced the possibility of job action so concretely before. Be assured, however, that your colleagues on the Negotiating Team, Bargaining Resource Committee, Job Action Committee, and Executive are well prepared. 

You will hear much more about this over the next two weeks. The important thing is that the more we stand together, the less likely a strike or lockout becomes and the shorter it is likely to be if one occurs. We have the support of colleagues in Faculty and Staff unions across the Post-Secondary Sector and can expect to see concrete evidence of this over the next few weeks. 

We encourage the Board to work with us to #savethesemester by coming to the table with reasonable proposals that address the most significant items in our Members’ mandate. #ouruniversity is #worthfightingfor

On behalf of your colleagues on the Negotiating Team, Bargaining Resource, Job Action, and Executive Committees, I thank you for your support!