The University of Calgary Faculty Association Wins 1.7% Retroactive Wage Increase in Important Arbitration Decision

The University of Calgary Faculty Association (TUCFA) has just been awarded a 1.7% Across The Board (ATB) wage increase in an arbitration decision, retroactive to July 1, 2019. The decision contained a number of observations and conclusions that are relevant to the situation of the University of Lethbridge and its faculty as we enter negotiations under the current provincial government.

The first point had to do with the “provincial mandate.” In making the award, Arbitrator Andy Simms explicitly rejected the University of Calgary Administration’s position that a “provincial mandate” can be used to override the provisions of a collective agreement or that it should play any role in arbitration decisions. In his analysis of the administration’s argument, he writes: 

In seeking to justify its proposal’s departure from the range contracted for in the agreement to arbitrate, it [The University of Calgary Administration] argues:

The University recognizes that the Wage Re-Opener explicitly states that the outcome of the present interest arbitration shall be no less than a 0% ATB salary adjustment. However, the University did not contemplate the actions of the new Government of Alberta which tabled Bill 21: Ensuring Fiscal Sustainability Act, 2019 which introduced the Public Sector Employers Act. The University also did not anticipate the new mandate of -2% from the PBCO [Provincial Bargaining Coordination Office]. Given that the University is a publicly funded institution in Alberta, the University ignores the government’s direction on this issue at its peril.

The University was asked whether the legislation, which delayed arbitration and brought the PBCO and Ministerial directives into play in public sector bargaining, provided any authority to allow an arbitrator, under this wage reopener, to ignore the parameters set by the parties. It was unable to point to any such authority. I have examined that legislation and similarly can find no legal basis upon which I can alter the contractual mandate given me by the parties in their agreement….  

Having found nothing and been referred to nothing that changes my contractual mandate, I find I cannot lawfully entertain a proposal for a 2% roll-back. In any event, I would not be persuaded, on the evidence before me, that such a roll-back would be appropriate for this bargaining unit. I refer below to three subsequent arbitration awards, as well as the Saskatchewan teachers award, that came to a similar conclusion (6, 8).

As Simms went on to show, moreover, a “government mandate” that focussed on ATB wage cuts for teaching and research faculty in the post-secondary sector was out-of-keeping with the recommendations of the MacKinnon report — which the government is using to justify cuts to university funding in the first place:

The “Blue Ribbon panel” produced an influential report on Alberta’s spending position. It was left to others to evaluate and decide upon provincial taxation policy and other aspects of direct provincial revenue. It [sic] comments on Alberta’s spending on post-secondary education include the following at p. 41:

Alberta spends significantly more per student full-time equivalent (FTE) than the three comparator provinces. Alberta spends $36,500 per FTE while British Columbia spends $31,300 ($5,200 less), Ontario spends $21,500 ($15,000 less), and Quebec spends $25,800 ($10,700 less).

For Alberta, 77 cents of each dollar is used to deliver post-secondary programming. By comparison, British Columbia spends 87 cents, Ontario spends 77 cents and Quebec spends 67 cents on post-secondary programming. However, the big difference [sic] are in the amounts spent on administration. Alberta’s spending on administration at $8,372 per FTE is slightly lower than Quebec but significantly higher than British Columbia at $4,233 and Ontario at $4,910. (emphasis added [- Simms])

The MacKinnon Report, in several areas – particularly K-12 education and health care spending – found Alberta’s wage rates to be higher than elsewhere. No similar observations were made specifically with respect to post-secondary academic salaries [emphasis added – ULFA]….

I find this helpful because, if post-secondary institutions are to diversify their revenue sources they cannot simply do so through austerity and efficiencies. Much of the ability to attract research, government, and philanthropic grants depends directly on the quality of the faculty and the work they do. Much the same is true in attracting foreign students. The same is true of the University’s ability to capitalize on contributions and incentives that depend directly on the reputation (often the international reputation) of its faculty, individually or in teams (p. 9).

Indeed, Simms pointed out, an emphasis on performance-based funding, of necessity, results in a greater rather than a lesser emphasis on inter-institutional comparisons, including salaries. Since the institutions are being compared — meaning that they are believed to be comparable — in terms of their performance, Simms argued, the desirability of eliminating pay differentials through a comparison of wages also should be considered in arbitration awards:

The move to performance-based budgeting of necessity involves measurement and comparison. For the University of Calgary, the most direct comparisons will be to the University of Alberta. This makes it harder to justify an 8.8% or similar differential between the two institutions (pp. 21 and 31).

Finally, Simms also discussed the degree to which government expectations interact with market expectations in reaching wage settlements. Noting that government pressure undoubtedly affects the way a University responds to financial challenges, Simms nevertheless argues that  

[i]t is by no means obvious that salary reductions will be the option favoured by either side. This is particularly so if the result is salary levels that reduce Calgary below those institutions to which they have customarily compared themselves. There are other approaches, perhaps involving a reduction in staffing levels, or the elimination of programs, that will find more favour than salary reductions or restraint to the point where the academic staff member’s buying power is eaten up by ongoing inflation. Another approach, suggested by the MacKinnon panel, is a readjustment in the amount spent on administrative costs. I only note this, but I have no independent basis on which to suggest this should be a favoured option.

The academic salary component of the University’s budget is sufficiently large that it is easily seen as a target for reductions. However, academic salaries, whether under an arbitration regime or a free collective bargaining regime, still involve market factors and the comparisons that at least partially drive expectations.

Indeed, as Simms points out, despite similar “provincial mandates” calling for ATB wage rollbacks of -2% or -3% across the public sector, all arbitration decisions in the province since the election of the new government have resulted in either a wage increase (AUPE 1%, TUCFA 1.7%) or wages staying the same (UNA, ATA). There have been no examples of voluntary wage rollbacks — a fact pointed to, as Simms notes, in the UNA ruling, where the Arbitration Board explicitly 

rejected the Employer’s request for a roll-back and referred to the lack of any examples of such a result in free collective bargaining. It adopted the words of Arbitrator Peltz:

On this approach to replication, we observe that the government acting reasonably would accept the reality that it cannot, without unacceptable consequences, force public sector units to roll back wages at this time. Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation v. Saskatchewan School Boards Assn. (Renewal Collective Agreement Grievance) [2018] SLAA 9 at para. 73

In his conclusion, Simms returned to emphasise a number of points that are particularly relevant for the situation at the University of Lethbridge:

I find this increase is justified by a comparison to the salaries in place for similarly placed academic staff…. The justification of this comparison is increasing as the Province establishes a funding structure that will inevitably compare the institutions’ performance, the one to the other….

One of the unfortunate by-products of policy or pattern bargaining across public sector workforces, and across the Province, is that it tends to put at a relative disadvantage institutions and employees that have already worked to constrain expenditures…. It precludes consideration of the type of market forces that produce an equilibrium between institutions and allows little or no recognition of each institution’s history or current needs.

The U-15 survey comparisons are also supportive of this increase. The data establishes that the University of Calgary’s ranking in comparison to that group has declined. These comparisons represent the dominant market for academics in Canada. I agree… that this data shows a significant downward trajectory in comparison to similar institutions.

An increase is also supported on the basis of the projected cost-of-living changes…. Academic staff perform a whole range of important teaching and research functions. Academics gain little when the economy is booming in comparison to employees in other industries. It is not inappropriate for that reason that their salaries increase, for this year, to at least compensate them for their decreasing purchasing power.

This process (and others) was delayed to allow consideration of the MacKinnon Report. Its conclusions about public sector employment generally are not specifically directed at academic staff. Indeed it suggests the cause of higher per student costs primarily lies elsewhere. (34-35, emphasis added – ULFA).

ULFA and Board Meet to Discuss Collective Agreement Extension; Revised Board Team

Negotiating teams representing ULFA and the Board met on Monday to discuss extending the 2018-2020 Collective Agreement for a period of between one and three years. The result of this meeting was an agreement to meet again in mid-September, at which point the teams will either attempt to finalise a contract extension or begin exchanging language as part of negotiations for a new collective agreement.

The prompt for the discussion was a draft Memorandum of Settlement prepared by ULFA. This was a proposal to extend all terms and conditions in the current Collective Agreement for an additional year. Under this proposal the new end date of the Collective Agreement would be June 30th, 2021 (instead of the current June 30th, 2020) and all other dates would be adjusted accordingly. All other terms and conditions would stay in effect without modification. The purpose of the proposed extension was to provide certainty to both management and the union during the unprecedented COVID crisis.

During their two hour videoconference, the two sides compared notes on the current national, provincial, and institutional situation, discussed various approaches to continuing bargaining, and explored different options for extending the current agreement for periods ranging from one to three or more years. 

The Board team indicated that it would bring the key points of Monday’s discussion to its larger team and, potentially, the Board of Governors, before getting back to the ULFA team.

Prior to this meeting, the Board had advised ULFA of revisions to its negotiating team due to changing positions in the university administration. The new Board negotiating team still includes Dr. Chris Nicol as Chief Negotiator and Ms. Linda Van der Velde from Human Resources. They are joined by new members Dr. Mary Ingraham and Dr. Kelly Williams-Whitt.

ULFA and Board hold first Negotiating Meeting


On June 4, ULFA’s Negotiating Team met with the University of Lethbridge Board of Governors’ Negotiating Team. The meeting was conducted virtually using the Zoom platform. With our Collective Agreement set to expire on June 30, 2020, ULFA had issued a Notice to Bargain on April 16. The Alberta Labour Relations Code calls for an initial meeting to be held within 30 days, but the difficulty of coordinating schedules under the COVID crisis resulted in delays to the timing of this meeting.

ULFA’s Negotiating Team consists of Dan O’Donnell (Chief Spokesperson), Olu Awosoga, Rumi Graham, Adam Letourneau, Joy Morris, and Rob Sutherland, with Aaron Chubb as a resource person. Mary Kavanagh and Claudia Steinke also joined this meeting as observers, and Eva Cool joined as an additional resource person to help with technological issues.

The Board’s Negotiating Team consists of Chris Nicol (Chair), Robert Wood (Vice-chair), Michelle Helstein and Linda van der Velde. Dr. Wood and Dr. Helstein were unable to attend this meeting.

The intent of this first meeting is to establish protocols and introduce negotiations. According to the Labour Code, the parties must exchange their first proposals at a subsequent meeting, to be held within 15 days, unless they mutually agree otherwise.

What Happened

The meeting was very cordial in tone. Both sides acknowledged the challenges and uncertainties we are currently facing on many fronts.

The Board advised ULFA that due to a series of new appointments recently announced in senior administration (in particular the appointment of Dr. Wood as Acting VP Research and the appointment of Dr. Helstein as Acting Vice-Provost), there may be changes forthcoming to the composition of their Negotiating Team. They will advise us when any decisions are made.

In response to a request by the Board, ULFA clarified that in its proposal (from the Notice to Bargain) to extend the end date of our Collective Agreement, we had a one-year formal extension of the Collective Agreement in mind. While we are prepared to begin negotiations otherwise, as required by the Code, a formal extension would recognise and accommodate the unique situation we are in.

The sides mutually agreed to extend the 15-day deadline for the next meeting, with a goal of meeting again in three to four weeks. In the meantime, ULFA will prepare a draft Memorandum of Understanding formally extending the end date of our Collective Agreement for consideration.

ULFA serves notice to commence bargaining on Board of Governors

On April 16, the ULFA Negotiating Team and Executive served its notice to commence bargaining on the University of Lethbridge Board of Governors.

Important rules governing the serving of such notices and their impact on negotiations and the effect of the Collective Agreement are found in Division 10 and section 130(1) of the Alberta Labour Relations Code.

In light of the COVID-19 emergency, ULFA proposed extending the end date of the Collective Agreement as part of its Notice. Such pauses in negotiations during these uncertain times are quite common in the University and other sectors across Canada, and are recommended by various trade and labour associations. It is ULFA’s belief that delaying the start of negotiations in this way would be beneficial to both parties in light of the great uncertainty, change, and opportunities affecting the sector.

The Board of Governors Negotiating Team has indicated that they expect to respond to our Notice shortly.

ULFA Membership Approve Bargaining Mandate with 94% Support

After a good discussion at the Annual General Meeting, held on April 6, the ULFA membership approved a bargaining mandate for the ULFA negotiating team with 94% of the membership in favour. 

The bargaining mandate was prepared by ULFA’s Bargaining Resource Committee following extensive consultation, including approximately 100 one-on-one member interviews, several town halls, and a survey completed by roughly ¾ of the membership. Aspects of the draft mandate were discussed with members of the Gender Equity and Diversity Committee. The draft mandate was then provided for comment to the Negotiating Team, which will carry out the actual negotiations, before being finalised, approved by the Executive Committee, and presented to the membership for a vote at the Annual General Meeting.

The complete Bargaining Mandate is included below, the highlights include:

Demands to address salary and benefit erosion that has occurred over the past several years. 

As Bob Barnetson has noted in his blog, Alberta public servants of all kinds, including ULFA members, have seen no cost of living increases since 2017, resulting in an erosion of spending power relative to inflation of at least 3.7%. ULFA members have also lost relative to their colleagues at peer institutions. Uniquely among the faculty of the province’s Comprehensive Academic and Research Universities (CARUs), U of L faculty took a 1% wage rollback to assist the University during the last Conservative government budget cutbacks in 2013. The U of L consistently underperforms its main comparators in terms of faculty compensation at all ranks.

Difference in mean salary by rank

The five comparator institutions, agreed upon with the employer, are UofA, UofC, Trent University, UofR, and UofS. 

Demands to address deficiencies in benefits

There has been little progress in addressing problems with our benefits over successive rounds of negotiation. The members have consistently noted the shortcomings of our vision care and dental care benefits. There is also a clear inequity where benefits are reduced when two parents are Members of ULFA. Finally, professional development funds should be restored for tem instructors and created for sessional lecturers for each course they teach. 

Demands to address workload

After much discussion, the Membership has determined to maintain current workload and to achieve equitable workload assignments for all Members. To support this demand, ULFA must receive clear data on workload levels across all units and faculties.

Demands for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

Key elements of this part of the mandate include: creating a  joint ULFA-Board committee to evaluate and address salary inequities related to diversity; implementing bias training for personnel committees and for Academic Administrators, Chairs, and Directors; ensuring that student evaluations are not used summatively to measure teaching effectiveness (rather, that they are used formatively by Members for improving instruction and as an indicator of the student experience); eliminating binary language from the Collective Agreement; and improving language concerning the evaluation of service and research conducted by Indigenous Members and Members who work with Indigenous peoples.

Demands for improvements in Collegial Governance

It has been repeatedly noted that the effectiveness and breadth of Members’ roles in collegial governance has been eroded over many years. This has led to a demand to increase Member representation in decision-making processes throughout the University.

Demands for an Instructor path to the Professoriate

Many Instructors establish themselves in a leadership role in teaching and teaching research. A path to a multiple-rank teaching Professoriate should be defined for those Members.

In light of uncertainties concerning funding levels, enrolment rates, and novel instructional demands, these are challenging times for negotiations with the Board. It is significant that during such times, the Membership has so clearly expressed its goals with such strong support and has publicly charged the Negotiating Team with achieving improvements in those areas that matter to them.

Complete Bargaining Mandate

Schedule A: Salary Schedule and Stipends

Address the erosion of salary and stipends in relation to the cost of living over previous years, and address the difference in salary and stipends relative to comparator institutions. Merit and career progress for Members on reduced load calculated in a more equitable way.

Schedule B Benefits
Address problems with benefits, particularly with vision care and dental care. Address inequities to benefits when both parents are Members. Restore professional development funds for term instructors. Create a professional development fund for sessional lecturers on a per course basis.

Maintain current level of work and seek equity in workload assignment. 

Negotiate ULFA receiving clear data about the factors at the department/program/area level that influence workload.

Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Strike a joint ULFA-Board committee to evaluate and address salary inequities related to diversity.

Implement bias training for senior academic administrators, Chairs and directors, STP members, and search committee members.

Ensure that student evaluations of teaching are not used summatively or to measure teaching effectiveness but can be used formatively or for feedback on the student experience.

Implement appropriate parameters for fairly evaluating the specific nature and demands of research, service, and public duties for Indigenous Faculty Members.

Implement appropriate parameters for fairly evaluating the specific nature and demands of research, service, and public duties for those who conduct work with Indigenous people.

Change binary gendered language to more inclusive terminology throughout the Collective Agreement.

Collegial Governance

Improve ULFA representation on governance bodies including an appointed seat on the budgetary advisory committee; and increased decision making by Faculty Members on staffing priorities in academic areas.


Other STP Issues

Negotiate a salary increase tied to tenure and promotion.

Include service explicitly as a criterion for promotion and tenure.|

Negotiate promotion to associate professor as an automatic consequence of the award of tenure.


Information and Security for Union

Secure additional paid course releases and cash for ULFA.

Add @uleth email addresses to the data received in 6.03.1.e.


Article Defining Instructor Route to Professoriate

Create a category of teaching professoriate, with assistant, associate, and full teaching professor ranks, which is available only to instructors who show leadership in teaching and teaching research. 


Schedule S 

Rationalise and reorganize the Collective Agreement along the lines of Schedule S.

ULFA AGM – Monday, April 6th, 2020

ULFA’s Annual General Meeting is on Monday, April 6th, 2020. It is a virtual meeting due to COVID-19. We have the online capacity for this large of a meeting and are encouraging all Members to attend. Information on accessing the meeting and a final agenda was emailed out to Members on the morning of Monday, April 6th. Please note that a password is now required. If you did not receive access codes to the online AGM, please check your spam folders first and then contact Aaron Chubb.