Why are we at Impasse?

Members of the academic staff at the University of Lethbridge love what we do. We share a deep commitment to our students and to our work. We are in the midst of courses and projects that excite us. None of us wants to go on strike.

But… we want to work for an institution that values us and the contributions that we make to the University’s mission and mandate. We want to work with colleagues who are proud of this University and happy to be here, not overworked and disengaged, and looking for positions elsewhere. We want to have the time and energy, and to know that our colleagues do also, that is necessary to ensure that we can give our students a really high-quality education, both now and in the future. We recognize that this is a stressful time, especially for students, and are doing our best to balance the long- and short-term interests and needs of our students.

We are hearing from many of our colleagues that they believe this to be in jeopardy. Although both sides have moved a long way from their opening positions, the Board and ULFA remain in disagreement on a number of key issues. Whether or not these differences are sufficiently significant to be willing to strike over will be up to our Members, if the Negotiating Teams are unable to bridge these gaps. The bare facts of the positions have been provided here. But the terms of a single contract never provide the full picture. Over time, small changes in the contract can add up to very significant change, for good or ill. As we come to the end of any contract negotiation, it’s important to consider where we are at in that larger picture, and whether or not a trend or cumulative effect is very important to us, even if the details of the latest changes seem relatively minor.

This is the balance that the ULFA Negotiating Team has been trying to reach in the bargaining process, informed by feedback from all of our Members. In the remainder of this blog, we are trying to provide some of this broader context. We will begin by outlining the proposals that were taken off the table in an attempt to reach agreement during mediation. Next we will explain the points on which agreement has been reached. In a separate post (see the link at the end) we give additional details and context for the Articles that are explicitly included in each of the Offers of Settlement.

Proposals that were Dropped in Mediation

In the attempt to come to an agreement in mediation, both the Board and ULFA Negotiating Teams withdrew many proposals that had been included in each party’s initial bargaining proposals. The Board had included a number of positions in their opening proposal that were untenable to the union; the reverse was also true. These cannot be considered as “gains” or “losses” since they were never accepted. They do give some idea of how far each side has moved from its initial position in their efforts to reach agreement, and of aspirations that have not been achieved. However, some care should be taken in any such analysis to avoid giving too much weight to a party’s withdrawal of a proposal that was obviously unrealistic. It is also important to note that items that were withdrawn for the purposes of mediation can be brought back to the table now that mediation is over. Recognizing that some mandate priorities may not be realized in this round of negotiations, our negotiation mandate also serves to inform the development of the negotiation mandate for the next round of negotiations.

In mediation, the most significant proposals withdrawn by the Board were:

  • Central issues affecting all Members:
    • To give a 4% wage rollback, retroactive to July 1, 2020;
    • To make academic freedom subject to the business interests of the university;
    • To reduce the rights of Members to be accompanied in meetings with their supervisors;
    • To significantly reduce the threshold necessary for the declaration of a financial emergency and the consequent ability to terminate tenured and continuing academic staff;
  • Issues primarily affecting Sessional Lecturers and Term Members:
    • To introduce a new, lower-paid rank for sessional lecturers;
    • To reduce the rights of Term Members, treating them exactly like Sessional Lecturers;
    • To allow the Board to terminate Term Members and Sessional Lecturers without cause;
    • To remove any limits on course assignments for Sessional Lecturers;
  • Changes to Career Progress and Merit (while maintaining the overall Board financial contribution):
    • To rewrite the career progress and merit system so that only 3 scores would be available, and merit would be both rarer and more valuable;
    • To reduce career progress increments in order to increase the merit pools;
    • To increase the threshold required for earning career progress;
    • To provide career progress for Instructors;
  • Union Issues:
    • To shorten timelines allowed for filing grievances;
    • To reduce union dues for inactive Members (senior academic administrators);
    • To limit the procedures that are stayed by the introduction of a grievance;
  • Other:
    • To introduce the possibility of an emergency suspension with pay in cases where there are safety concerns; and
    • To give deans the right to assign service duties to Members and to reassign Members without consent.

The most significant proposals withdrawn by ULFA included:

  • Central issues affecting all Members:
    • To ask for 6% wage increases per year for two years;
    • To improve language around student evaluations of teaching and their use;
    • To include advice and representation from the union automatically during potential disputes between Members and their supervisors;
    • To ensure that the union is made aware of any disputes between Members and their supervisors, and of issues that profoundly affect Members’ careers;
  • Issues affecting all Members other than Sessional Lecturers:
    • To allow new Members to submit PARs so they have the possibility of achieving scores higher than 1.0 in their first evaluation;
    • To eliminate the practice of doubly-reducing increments for Members on Reduced Load or Gradual Retirement agreements;
    • To improve leave provisions broadly and in many ways.
  • Issues primarily affecting Instructors and Academic Assistants:
    • To introduce a Teaching Professoriate category available to Instructor IIIs through promotion;
    • To clarify that Members for whom service is not part of the position description, do not have service expectations;
    • For the Board to provide full contributions to the Merit Fund for Members who are at the salary cap, so that Instructors receiving a score of 2.0 receive the same amount that was contributed to the Fund on their behalf;
    • To require that an assignment that includes full responsibility for a course should require promotion from the rank of Instructor I;
  • Issues primarily affecting Faculty Members and Professional Librarians:
    • To introduce additional salary increments that would be tied to achieving any promotion;
    • To tie promotion to Associate Professor/Librarian III to the achievement of tenure as a single step;
    • To add explicit criteria for Extension of Probation, which do not currently exist;
  • Issues primarily affecting Sessional Lecturers:
    • To improve the right of first refusal for Sessional Lecturers; and
    • To clarify the reasons for which a Member can be hired to fill a Term position, and to ensure these are distinct from the reasons for which a Sessional Lecturer can be appointed.

Both sides had also proposed adding service to the criteria for promotion and tenure; ULFA did not want this to be an additional barrier, so had tied this to the understanding that high service expectations would correspondingly reduce expectations for other criteria, which was not in the Board’s opening position. This issue has also been withdrawn.

Tentative Agreements

In the course of negotiations and subsequent mediation, the Parties have come to agreement on three Schedules, one Article, and one Memorandum of Understanding. The highlights of these agreements are:

  • Schedules C, I, and K: Each of these schedules explained an agreed-upon process that was time-limited and is now complete. Agreeing to delete these schedules was not controversial. The Schedules are: Grandfathering Clause for Probationary Appointments, Implementation of Academic Assistant/Instructor Language, and Student Evaluations of Teaching MOU.
  • Article 28 (Intellectual Property): As noted in Schedule S, at the end of the previous round of negotiations, both parties committed to re-table ULFA’s proposal on Intellectual Property (IP) in the 2020 bargaining year. The main goals were to modernize and reorganize the language of the IP article for greater clarity and to incentivize technology transfer and commercialization within the provincial research framework. See here for more details.
  • Article YY (Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion): This grew out of Schedule R in the 2018-2020 Collective Agreement. It will be given an Article number, but the number will be determined during clean-up, after ratification.
    • Changes were made to the Joint Committee on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, including:
      • A name change;
      • Increase in membership from 4 to 6;
      • Outlining the relationship between the committee and the office of the Executive Director of EDI;
      • Mandating that the annual report include relevant aggregate data about EDI issues reviewed by the committee;
      • Mandating regular EDI studies, with redress in the case of pay equity studies, under the direction of this committee.
    • Adjustments were made to language around Accommodations, including:
      • Clearer language limiting documentation that may be required to information that is relevant;
      • Requiring the Board to cover the costs of any documentation they require;
      • The Board will offer biannual training to Members around the right to accommodation and the processes for securing accommodations, and will ensure that supervisors all receive such training regularly.
    • A section was added about evaluation of the work of Indigenous Members, including:
      • Ensuring that traditional knowledge, knowledge production, and ways of doing and knowing are valued in evaluation procedures;
      • Allowing Indigenous Members to recommend weightings in keeping with their own traditional understandings of their work;
      • Giving Indigenous Members the right to have an Expert Advisor consulted in any evaluation of their work. The Expert Advisor must understand the specific context from which the Member is working. The Member has the right to choose which part(s) of their work are reviewed by the Expert Advisor, and the right to approve the Expert Advisor;
      • When consent for research is withdrawn by an Indigenous community, the efforts that went into the work up to that point shall be evaluated as if the work had come to a successful conclusion.
    • A section was added about broader equity considerations in evaluation, including:
      • Anyone participating in evaluation processes must have recent equity training, including bias training;
      • Particularly in the context of work with equity-deserving communities, efforts may not result in measurable outcomes (eg. when consent is withdrawn). Such work should be reported and considered in evaluations, and it is recognised that such work may have impacts.
  • MOU on Reorganisation: In the previous round of negotiations, ULFA sought significant reorganisation of the Collective Agreement. The goal was to collect and unify language around common processes. There were two principal motivations for this: to make the agreement easier to use, and to ensure that no job category gets left behind when changes are made to processes for some Members and the corresponding processes are overlooked in other locations. Schedule S of the 2018-2020 Collective Agreement postponed this work  to the current round of negotiations by agreeing to a new structure in principle but leaving the details to be agreed upon in bargaining. The MOU establishes a mechanism for completing this work along the lines outlined in Schedule S, through the efforts of a working group that will move language during the clean-up phase that follows ratification. ULFA hopes that the completion of the reorganisation will make it easier for future Board Negotiating Teams to seriously consider substantive changes that ULFA would like to make to some of this language. As a matter of housekeeping, the MOU also includes an agreement to change to gender-neutral language throughout the Collective Agreement.

For ULFA members, please reach out to ULFA if you have questions or comments, and watch your inboxes for further communication and information.

A post discussing mediation and the discussions of the January 18th and 21st town halls is provided here.

A post providing commentary on specific aspects of proposals within the January 17th Offers of Settlement is available here.

More details on the work of the Job Action Committee can be found here.

You can follow the status of all Articles opened during this round of negotiations here.