During the 18 days since the ULFA strike began on February 10th, 2022, ULFA’s Negotiating Team has repeatedly reached out to the Board team, sending one offer on February 12th and three additional unconditional invitations to resume negotiations (on February 16th, 17th, and 23rd). The Board team has repeatedly responded that they have no room to move on any points. They have declined invitations to meet by saying that unless the ULFA team is willing to “embrace” the “framework” of the take-it-or-leave-it offer that the Board team provided on the morning that the strike began, “meeting would be a mere formality.”
Meanwhile, the Board’s public rhetoric has become increasingly inflammatory and misleading. Their February 26th bargaining blog post was particularly misleading, claiming among other things that the union was refusing to meet at the table, and that the union had used mediation as a pretext to strike. Particularly flagrant misinformation in the post included median salary values they claimed for faculty members, which were overstated by $10K-$20K. These values can easily be fact-checked against the numbers the university reported to Statistics Canada. We will be documenting these and other misleading statements by the Board in ULFA blog posts over the next week.
On February 28th, on the Negotiating Team’s recommendation, ULFA’s Executive directed our lawyer to file an urgent Unfair Labour Practices complaint with the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB), against the Board of Governors of the University of Lethbridge. Consisting of more than 30 pages, ULFA’s complaint outlines a consistent pattern in the Board’s behaviour of “surface bargaining” (failure to negotiate important items in a meaningful way), stall tactics, and a refusal to enter into the give-and-take discussions that are necessary to serious negotiations. Instances of these behaviours have been apparent from the earliest stages of bargaining, more than 600 days ago, and have persisted throughout our negotiations.
What Does this Achieve?
ULFA’s goal remains, as it has always been, to reach a fair and ratifiable settlement. In our complaint, we have asked the ALRB for the following “remedies” (steps we are asking the ALRB to take to help rectify the problem):
- That the Board team be directed to begin meeting at least twice per week with the ULFA team, for meaningful negotiations;
- That these meetings be held under the oversight of an experienced and senior labour relations mediator;
- That ULFA be provided with financial statements, so we can verify the Board team’s claims that the Board cannot afford to offer salary increases more in line with cost-of-living increases;
- That the Board of Governors be required to ask the Minister’s consent to release the secret government directive to ULFA; and
- Several other standard requests for such cases, including a declaration that the Labour Relations Code has been violated by the Board and other relief the ALRB may find appropriate.
What Happens Next?
The process is unfolding, and we do not know exactly how things will transpire. We will keep members updated as we learn more. In the meantime, this is our current understanding of the most likely next steps.
The Board of Governors received the full details of ULFA’s complaint at the same time that it was filed with the ALRB. The ALRB will allow them some time to respond to the complaint. The amount of time the Board may be allowed will depend on such factors as the urgency of the issue and the complexity of the case. Although our request is urgent, the details are long and complex, so the amount of time that the ALRB will allow the Board is not clear.
After the Board responds to the ALRB with their view of the particulars of the case, the sides will be offered one more opportunity to correct anything they feel the other side has not represented accurately. The ALRB will then convene a hearing, subject to the availability of everyone concerned (including ALRB panelists to hear the case).
In the lead-up to the ALRB hearing, there may be opportunities for ULFA and the Board to agree on ways forward (possibly including some of the “remedies” that ULFA has requested) without the intervention of the ALRB. As always, the ULFA team will be looking for ways to return to the table and complete the task with which the ULFA membership entrusted us: to negotiate in good faith to achieve a fair and ratifiable settlement.