What is happening at U of L? Will the semester be disrupted due to a labour dispute?
The University of Lethbridge Faculty Association (ULFA), the bargaining group your professors, instructors, and librarians belong to, does not want a strike or a lockout. All of us – students, staff, and faculty – have struggled with the disruption and unpredictability of the past two years. We have worked hard to keep the University going through the uncertainty of a pandemic, provincial budget cuts, and administration-led restructuring process. ULFA is committed to ensuring that we give negotiations every possible chance to succeed, and we are using all of the tools available to us to avoid a labour disruption.
We want to #savethesemester and believe that #ouruniversity is #worthfightingfor.
So why are people talking about my professors, instructors, and librarians going on strike?
ULFA members have been without a contract for almost two years. ULFA wants to reach a fair agreement with the U of L administration. However, this negotiation has lasted over 600 days, including two months of bargaining with the assistance of an independent mediator. We intend to give negotiations every possible chance to succeed and use all of the available tools to avoid a strike and #savethesemester. Despite ULFA’s efforts, our current round of negotiations has been extremely unproductive, with continuous delays by the employer, including their use of expensive mediation time to prepare their proposals. Further delays in reaching a settlement threaten the quality of academic programmes at the University of Lethbridge and consequently, your U of L experience.
On Monday January 17, 2022, mediation ended with the mediator indicating the two sides are currently too far apart for a deal. This initiated a two week ‘cooling off’ period. At the end of this period, ULFA can hold a strike vote under the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB). The U of L Administration could similarly apply to the ALRB for a vote to lock your instructors out of the workplace.
A strike vote is not taken lightly and represents the last resort to achieve an agreement after all other negotiation efforts have been exhausted. A “yes” vote does not automatically mean that ULFA will go on strike. It simply means that the membership has given the ULFA Executive Committee a mandate to call a strike should further bargaining efforts fail to reach a fair agreement. In the post-secondary sector in Canada, there are many more positive strike votes than actual strikes. This is because employers negotiate more seriously with a decisive strike vote. We hope that a “yes” vote will motivate the Administration to reach a fair settlement before any strike deadline.
ULFA has never gone on strike. More commonly, negotiations occur up to the last minute of a strike deadline. Even though this may seem stressful, this is how bargaining occurs. Faculty will only go on strike if negotiations fail.
What are the issues?
Government cuts to post-secondary funding have meant cuts to U of L programming and student support. These cuts have also led to increases in tuition. Although ULFA does not have the legal ability to negotiate tuition, we do want to protect the quality of education we offer at the U of L. We have been fighting hard for:
- Equity. 32% of our members are paid less than the average salary in Lethbridge.
Sessional lecturers are the University’s most poorly paid members. They have no job security and do not receive funds to cover professional expenses. The Board will not commit to anything beyond tweaks to existing language to address this inequity. In addition, the Board will not provide any health benefits to sessional lecturers, many of whom have been working in this precarious position for years.
- Parity. There are five universities that ULFA and the Board have, for years, agreed on as comparators in collective bargaining. The U of L’s frontline teaching staff members are paid substantially less (10-15%) than colleagues at any of these institutions. This has caused major problems for faculty recruitment and retention. The Board’s latest proposal will leave ULFA Members even further behind, posing challenges for both recruitment and retention of faculty.
- Respect. During the worst budget cutbacks of a generation and an aggressive restructuring plan, the Board has limited faculty and students’ ability to contribute to the University’s decision-making. The Board even refused to allow Members a say in how their own money will be spent on benefits like vision and dental care.
As well as a number of other priorities.
Faculty working conditions are student learning conditions and we firmly believe that these are #worthfightingfor. These are significant issues that greatly impact the teaching and learning environment at the U of L. They are also critical for being able to recruit and retain faculty.
What could a strike or lockout mean to me? What can I expect?
If a strike occurs, or the Administration locks ULFA members out of their workplace, ULFA members will not engage in University-related work for the duration of job action. They won’t be grading papers or submitting grades. They won’t be answering emails or using Moodle, except to answer strike related questions. We will provide as much communication to students as possible through official union channels, such as virtual town halls.
Rest assured that most strikes in the post-secondary sector are resolved in three weeks or fewer. The recent strike at Concordia University of Edmonton (CUE) lasted a little over a week. Once a strike or lockout ends, our Members would work hard to ensure you are caught up in your courses. In the recent CUE strike, their administration disabled faculty’s institutional emails. We encourage you to provide an alternate email address to your instructors now, and for them to do the same with you, so you are best informed about a strike or lockout. *EDIT: On January 27th the employer sent a reckless and unsigned letter to students, staff and faculty indicating ULFA Members (your instructors) would be locked out of their emails and any UofL platforms in the event of job action. ULFA has no way to email every student to provide it’s side. We have encouraged our Members to reach out to you and exchange alternative emails ASAP. Email forwarding from Uleth accounts should not be counted upon. It should be noted that during job action, like a strike or lockout, ULFA Members will be expected to withdraw their teaching duties, and will be using emails to provide important information about job action, not course related correspondence.
How can I show my support for ULFA?
We appreciate all of the messages of support we are receiving from students and other staff. You can share your message of support by emailing ULFA at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and share our messages there. You can speak to your ULSU or GSA representatives and ask them to pass a motion in support of our demands and have them send it to us and President Mahon. Other opportunities to show support will be shared on these social media channels. You can also join the newly formed UofL Student Solidarity and Action Council group on Facebook or email them for information on getting active.
We ask that you use the hashtags #ouruniversity, #worthfightingfor, and #savethesemester on any posts.
You can call or email the University of Lethbridge’s President, Dr. Michael Mahon at 403-329-2201 or email@example.com and ask that he take every possible step to prevent the strike by negotiating a fair agreement.
Your voice of support will make a difference! The more voices the Administration hears, the more likely they will listen and take this seriously.
Equity + Parity + Respect = A University Worth Fighting For