Bargaining update October 12, 2020

Representatives of ULFA and the Board of Governors met on October 12, 2020. The purpose of the meeting was to allow the Board of Governors team to clarify their presentation of the Articles they intended to open.

Prior to the meeting, representatives of the Board contacted the ULFA chief spokesperson in order to express reservations about an ULFA proposal to invite Members to observe bargaining. This is a continuation of a practice that was begun during the last round of negotiations and is intended to develop interest and familiarity in the bargaining process as a way of ensuring succession and diversity on future negotiating teams. 

The issue came up again at the beginning of the October 12 negotiating session. After some discussion it was decided that we would move on and that the Board would proceed to discuss the articles they wished to present.

In their presentation, the Board indicated that they are interested in achieving gains in what they described as areas of “financial sustainability” and “flexibility.” In several cases, these appeared to be opposed to items in the ULFA mandate, suggesting that this may be a difficult round of negotiations involving significant give-and-take on both sides.

At the end of the Board’s presentation, discussion turned to next steps. In light of the certainty that tradeoffs will be required, ULFA’s team indicated a desire to discuss “money” (i.e. salary and benefits) and “language” (i.e. terms and conditions) in parallel. This ensures that negotiations are meaningful, because both sides are able to understand the tradeoffs required in reaching agreement.

The Board indicated that they were not authorised to discuss financial matters at this point and, as a matter of “tradition” and principle, preferred to reserve their positions on financial matters, once they were authorised to discuss them, until after negotiations on language were completed.

In ULFA’s view, the Board’s position is compatible with neither tradition nor the obligation to bargain in good faith as required by the Alberta Labour Relations Code. Prior to the last round, negotiations were carried out in parallel at two tables under a completely different legal framework involving different resolution mechanisms. During the last round, “money” items were opened soon after negotiations began, approximately a year before negotiations concluded and most language was negotiated after monetary items were opened.

Likewise, under the code, both sides are obliged to appoint representatives who are authorised to bargain, and to present the articles they wish to discuss within two weeks of the first meeting after a notice to bargain has been issued. While ULFA has been willing to waive the specific time requirements of this latter deadline in recognition of the multiple stresses facing both sides during these exceptional times, meaningful negotiations do require both that both teams are empowered to negotiate money and language and that negotiations take place with an understanding of the full context of both parties’ positions.

After consulting with counsel, ULFA reiterated these concerns to the Board and asked for a meeting to discuss establishing an environment in which meaningful negotiations can occur.

ULFA Bargaining Town Halls- Recap

The recently completed round of ULFA bargaining town halls was well-attended, despite many competing demands as we begin a new school year in exceptional times. There was good attendance from all units and segments of the Bargaining Unit at  each of the three meetings, during which Members received an update on our bargaining environment and the current round of Collective Agreement negotiations.

ULFA Chief Bargaining Spokesperson Dan O’Donnell summarized key factors influencing collective bargaining in the province and reviewed the ULFA bargaining mandate. Job Action Committee Chair Ran Barley, spoke briefly about the importance of job action preparedness and encouraged members interested in learning more or participating in preparations for job action to join the Committee. The latter half of each town hall unfolded as an open Q & A session. Some members of the 2020 Negotiating Team and ULFA Executive, along with the Chief Bargaining Spokesperson, participated in the discussions. 

Examples of the wide range of Q & A topics that arose were the distinction between providing informed peer review assessments of academic work, and making managerial decisions about the outcomes of such assessments; workload issues; COVID’s inequitable impacts on academic women and gender-based analyses to help correct such imbalances; different ways of undertaking meaningful job action during a pandemic; and broad and deep concern about achieving equity on many fronts, many of which existed pre-COVID.

There was also a review of the 2019-2020 mandate as passed by members in the early spring, with a discussion of its continuing — and indeed increased — relevance as we begin the 2020-2021 academic year.

Many thanks to all who participated in these town halls. For members who were unable to attend, as always, feel free to reach out to any member of the Bargaining Resource Team or Negotiation Team if you have questions or suggestions. Your interest, concerns raised, and support continue to sustain ULFA as a strong bargaining unit.

The ULFA Negotiating team has had two meetings with the Board team in the current round of bargaining (June 8, 2020 and July 24, 2020). The Negotiating team met on September 17 to discuss issues coming out of the Town Halls and prepare for the September 22 collective bargaining meeting with the employer.

The Job Action Committee is Back at Work

The Job Action Committee (JAC) is back at work! As outlined in the ULFA Job Action Policy and Bylaws, we work during bargaining years to ensure ULFA members are prepared and organized should Job Action be required to ensure an equitable settlement.

We are committed to sharing information and building solidarity among ULFA members, and are excited to announce our 2020-2021 line-up: Chair Ran Barley (Chair, Biological Sciences), Kristine Alexander (History), Chad Povey (Physics), Aaron Taylor (Theatre & Drama), Sonya Von Heyking (Accounting), Mary Greenshields (Library), and Abigail McMeekin (Modern Languages & Linguistics). 

We are still looking for 3 additional committee members — from Education and the Calgary Campus — please get in touch if you want to join us! 

Over the coming months, our sub-committees – Communications, Finance, Materials & Supplies, and Picket Coordination – will be working together and with the Bargaining Resource Committee to ensure that we are fully prepared in case bargaining leads to a strike or lockout. 

It is difficult to think about these possibilities during the Covid-19 pandemic, and we are hopeful that the University of Lethbridge and ULFA will be able to negotiate a mutually acceptable collective agreement. At the same time, however, it is critically important that we be prepared in case a work stoppage is required.

For more information about job action and the work of the JAC, check out these Frequently Asked Questions about Job Action.

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

Background

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.