Issues on the Table: Improved Benefits for Sessional Lecturers

Our Sessional Lecturers hold the most precarious of all U of L academic staff appointments, as they have very little job security, very few benefits, and most often, very modest compensation. In this round of negotiations, ULFA’s bargaining mandate encompasses several desired improvements for sessionals, including some new benefits. Enhanced benefits represent small but important steps toward more equitable terms and conditions for sessionals.

The Problem

The Collective Agreement currently provides very few benefits for Sessional Lecturers. Sessionals receive statutory pay in lieu of vacation (Article 27), and Article 34 (Sessional Lecturers) merely mentions that minimum stipends “exclusive of holiday pay and other statutory benefits” are to be established through collective bargaining. Of the 15 items in Schedule B (Economic Benefits), only two apply to Sessional Lecturers. Economic benefits that are not available to sessionals include coverage for health and extended health care, dental care, vision care, access to an employee and family assistance program, life insurance, long term disability insurance, professional supplement, tuition benefit for members, and tuition benefits for a member’s partner and dependents. 

The two Schedule B items that do appy to sessionals are available only after their death. The first provision states that if a Member dies while employed under a Sessional Lecturer contract, the Board will pay the sessional’s estate a death benefit equivalent to two months of the sessional’s salary. The second provision simply says the death benefit includes full settlement of salary and vacation entitlement earned up to the sessional’s death.

The Positions

ULFA’s proposed changes to Schedule B include expanding the applicability of Articles B.06 and B.07 (tuition benefit for Members, their partners and their dependents) to all Members, including Sessional Lecturers. Although this is technically a monetary item, the cost to the Board is “in kind”. In fact, this benefit has the potential to increase revenue by attracting more enrolment; the benefit for dependents covers only 50% of tuition and these students would contribute to provincially-funded enrolment figures. To date, the Board team has shown no interest in discussing tuition benefits for sessionals.

ULFA also proposes to increase the number of sessions covered by the Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) and to extend eligibility for this benefit to sessionals and members with term appointments. To date, the Board team has made no Schedule B proposals that include extending eligibility for the EFAP benefit to sessional or term members, although they have verbally suggested that this might be possible if the increase to benefit costs is borne by members.

Another ULFA proposal in Schedule B seeks a modest Professional Supplement (PS) for sessionals to be paid by the Board as a per-course amount. Currently any professional expenses sessionals face have to be paid from their own pockets. The Board has shown some interest in the idea of providing a PS for sessionals, but would prefer to fund it by diverting the unused PS balance left by Members who have departed the University. Currently, any unused PS balance is allocated on an annual basis to eligible Members. How to fund a PS provision for sessionals remains an item for further discussion at the bargaining table.

It bears repeating that a community is only as strong as its most vulnerable members. In this round of negotiations, ULFA’s top priorities include improvements that provide more equitable terms and conditions of employment for our sessional members. Progress in these priority areas would also go some distance toward according to sessionals the respect they deserve as key members of the University’s academic staff. 
Schedule B has been discussed many times at the negotiating table in this round of bargaining, most recently on February 1 and 4February 7, and February 9, 2022.