November 27, 2018 Collective Bargaining Update

Board of governors rejects ULFA’s proposal for expedited bargaining

The two parties met on Tuesday November 27th so that the Board of Governors’ representatives could present their response to ULFA’s proposed expedited package for negotiations. You can read more about the history of this proposal here, here, and here.

The Board of Governors’ team did not bring any language to the meeting. They indicated instead that they believed that the two sides were too far apart to complete the expedited process within the agreed-upon time-frame and, as a result, said that they were not willing to continue bargaining within the proposed expedited framework.

Under the ground rules to which the two sides agreed before ULFA presented its package, the Board of Governors’ decision brought the expedited process to an end. As previously agreed, the two sides now return to positions they presented on or before November 15, the last day of regular negotiations (you can see the progress of regular and expedited negotiations here).

Why did the expedited package fail?

The failure of the expedited package was always considered a possibility by both sides. Because it is an example of the very different type of bargaining possible with a single table, we believe it is important for our membership to understand how the process worked and some of the possible reasons why the Board of Governors rejected the expedited package at this time.

ULFA presented the offer after the Board of Governors’ representatives asked what it would take for ULFA to suspend its “bridging” complaint to the Labour Board.  The complaint is in regards to the Governors’ failure to pay a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) on July 1, 2018 as the Association asserts is required by its Collective Agreement and the Labour Code.  (You can read more about the issues at stake and background here. The history of our discussion and the involvement of the Labour Relations Board can be followed here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

ULFA’s proposal for expedited bargaining answered this question by creating a way to mitigate the risk of either side losing at the Labour Board.

The main risk to ULFA of the Labour Board hearing is essentially that a loss will make the status quo permanent. The Board of Governors has already withheld the July 1, 2018 COLA; if we lose at the Board, then our members will continue to receive the 0s they are already receiving. They will have lost the COLA adjustment we believe that they are owed. But nobody will be worse (or better) off after a loss than they have been since the Board of Governors began withholding that payment.  

The risk to the Board of Governors at the Labour Board hearing is the possibility of a decision requiring them to pay 2.2% in COLA backdated to July 1, 2018 and continuing forward until negotiations conclude. ULFA believes that this will cost the Board approximately $1.2 million in 2018-2019 with an additional similarly sized increase compounding this loss on July 1, 2019 should negotiations still be in progress.  

Beyond this, both sides will incur potentially substantial legal fees if we cannot settle before the scheduled Labour Board hearing date in February.

In addition to offering cost certainty for the parties, ULFA’s proposal offered the Board of Governors an opportunity to save a significant proportion of their potential loss in 2018-2019 (with additional saving in future years and a saving in legal fees) in exchange for an expedited settlement on terms, conditions, and benefits that are important to ULFA’s membership. This would mean that ULFA members would have given up a portion of the money we believe they are entitled to otherwise in exchange for settlement on important language and benefits. A major emphasis of the ULFA package included terms that would bring protections for our most vulnerable members up to the standard of our comparator institutions.

ULFA’s proposed approach only makes sense if the Board of Governors considered their chances of losing at the Labour Board sufficiently high to be worth the cost of mitigation. The Board of Governors representatives indicated at the table, however, that they are very confident in their position and do not expect to lose. If their assumption is correct, then their rejection of ULFA’s proposed compromise probably makes good tactical sense. Since ULFA’s members are facing potential gains in the bridging case compared to the Board of Governors’ current refusal to pay COLA but no potential loss, the choice facing ULFA’s bargaining team was far less high-stakes a gamble.

Next steps

ULFA will now resume its work on a response to the Board’s “Parts”– shorthand for its proposal to reorganise many articles in the Handbook by employee category (you can read more about this here, here, here, here, here, and here). ULFA had previously accepted in principle the idea of organising information so that it is easy to use by Members in each job category, though it had expressed fundamental reservations about the details of the approach taken by the Board in its initial proposal. It will now present an alternative that streamlines the Board’s proposal and addresses ULFA’s concerns. ULFA indicated that it should be able to present an outline of this proposal with some initial examples three meetings from now.

In the meantime, the two parties have positions for which they are awaiting responses from the other side. In ULFA’s case, it must prepare responses (in addition to articles caught up in the “Parts”) to previously presented Board positions on Articles 2, 4, 5, 6, 11, 26, 29, and Schedules A and B. In the Board’s case, ULFA is awaiting responses on Articles 9, 16, 22, 25, 32, 33, and “36” (a proposed new article on equity language) as well as most of the Schedules other than A and B. In addition, the Board previously presented a partial response to ULFA’s proposal for a new typology of leaves (Article 34), promising a more complete counter-proposal at a later date.

The Board side also indicated at this meeting that it intends to establish a website for publishing information about the progress of bargaining. They have since informed us that updates will be posted to the following URL (requires a uleth username and password): They indicate that no updates pertaining to the negotiations with ULFA have been posted to date.