Issues on the Table: Salary Part 2 – The Role of Comparators

Apart from inflation, an important factor in deciding whether a salary adjustment is reasonable is an examination of compensation at comparator institutions. Historically, over many rounds of bargaining, the University of Lethbridge Board of Governors and ULFA have agreed on five comparator universities: Trent University, University of Alberta, University of Regina, University of Calgary, and University of Saskatchewan. In the comparisons, medical and dental school faculty are excluded. Fortunately, Statistics Canada makes these comparisons relatively straightforward.

Salary comparisons

The most recent data available for all five comparators plus the University of Lethbridge are from the 2020-2021 academic year. The data provide for comparisons of mean and median salaries, and 10th and 90th percentiles, for Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor ranks, also for males and females. The same data are available going back many years, allowing for an analysis of trends. 

Table 1. University of Lethbridge salary data for 2020-2021

University of Lethbridgemeanmedian10%ile90%ile
Full professor$165,425$157,250$127,550$212,025
Associate professor$130,025$126,625$98,500$165,525
Assistant professor$102,275$97,125$80,650$134,200

Numbers in red indicate salaries which are lower than the corresponding means or medians derived from our comparator universities. At all ranks, for both means and medians, and for both males and females we are paid less than our comparators. At the low end of salaries (the tenth percentile) our salaries are also uniformly lower. At the high end (the 90th percentile), Full Professor salary is lower and at the other two ranks salary is a bit higher than comparators. At all ranks our mean salary is between 9 and 10% lower than comparators and the medians are between 11 and 12.5% lower. The same trend is evident for both males and females, with males having consistently higher salaries than females. (That difference seems to be ripe for a separate, more thorough analysis.)

In terms of recent trends over the last three years, mean salaries at the University of Lethbridge are declining relative to our comparators in the Associate and Full Professor ranks, from 5 – 6% three years ago, to 9 – 10% in the most recent year. In these ranks we are clearly losing ground. The same trend is evident in median salaries. For Assistant Professors the difference was relatively large three years ago and is now in the same range as the other ranks.

Figure 1. Difference between mean salaries of University of Lethbridge faculty and other comparator university faculties by rank for 2018-2019 and 2020-2021.

In the spirit of the current Government of Alberta’s justification for adjusting funding to bring universities in line with comparators outside Alberta, we should be looking at a substantial raise. Note that the effect of salary differentials compounds over time under percentage salary adjustments, so the longer a member of academic staff remains at the University of Lethbridge, the further behind they fall.


To date, ULFA has clearly signaled in mediation and in more recent negotiations that on salary (or across-the-board adjustments on salary) our position has flexibility, and can be adjusted in exchange for significant gains in language elements of our collective agreement. This is a standard part of negotiations and has been seen at tables this year provincially and nationally.

The Board, however, has shown no flexibility in the value available for adjustments in salary and refuses to even discuss possible tradeoffs for lower-than-inflation salary proposals. 

In fact, within the province a pattern is emerging that was first offered to AUPE (Government of Alberta). It is:

•       July 1, 2020: 0%

•       July 1, 2021: 0%

•       July 1, 2022: 0%

•       January 1, 2023: 1.25% 

•       September 1, 2023: 1.5% with potential additional 0.5%, subject to Gain Sharing 

Academic staff at Mount Royal University (MRU) were offered, and accepted, something very similar with the equivalent of approximately +1% added to benefits and adjustments to steps at the time of ratification. The United Nurses of Alberta settlement was even better than MRU’s. It is important to note that in each of these cases, the agreed-on financial package was made acceptable to the unions through the inclusion of significant improvements in job security or other working conditions in the final settlement.

Our Board has offered us less than any of those three settlements. In terms of financial aspects even the AUPE deal (1% lower than the other two) has its dates of increases earlier. All three deals include extensive and important improvements in language and working conditions. Our Board’s current financial offer is:

•       July 1, 2020: 0%

•       July 1, 2021: 0%

•       July 1, 2022: 0%

•       April 1, 2023: 1.25%

•       December 1, 2023: 1.5%

•       February 29, 2024: Potential additional 0.5%, subject to Gain Sharing conditions

Accepting this proposal would allow our members’ salaries to fall even further behind those of comparators. 

Most recently ULFA’s position is to accept something similar to the Board’s offer with $2600 added to base salary as a partial comparator adjustment, or $175 to each stipend for Sessional staff. This position has been put forward as a gesture of good faith in an attempt to reach a settlement even though to date, the Board team has offered very little in the way of concessions on the core improvements to working conditions that were included in ULFA’s bargaining mandate. Other blog posts in this “Issues on the Table” series contain more information about many of these issues.

At this point, neither the Board’s nor ULFA’s positions on salary prevent academic staff from falling further behind inflation and comparators. ULFA’s position, however, does more than the Board’s to limit the decline.

The ULFA negotiation team has presented Schedule A (Salaries and Stipends) on September 27th, 2021, and on February 4th, 2022. More details on compensation and negotiations is available here, here, and here,and will also be provided in upcoming posts in this series.