Updates: Bargaining (October 22 and 25, November 1)

ULFA and representatives of the Board of Governors met for three negotiating sessions over the last two weeks: Monday October 22nd, Thursday October 25th, and November 1. As always, you can follow the exchange of articles here.

October 22

In the October 22nd session, the two sides exchanged 6 articles, in keeping with our September discussions.

ULFA Board
3 Amendments
5 Recognition
6 Communication and Information
3 Amendments
4 Applications and exclusions
Schedule A (Sessionals only)
Schedule B

This was an exciting and active session with lots of give and take.

In the case of Article 3, the two sides were able to settle on agreeable language after several rounds of at-the-table bargaining. Article 3 covers largely technical matters regarding amendments to the Collective Agreement. Under the new Labour Code regulations, however, it also governs the conditions under which job action (lockout or strike) may and may not take place. In the last few rounds, the discussion centred on the conditions under which Members of the Faculty Association may refuse to carry out scheduled duties in support of picket lines established on campus by other unions.

Article 5 deals with the conditions under which the Association can carry out its business. We are gradually beginning to identify the main areas of agreement in this article.

Article 6 deals with information required by the Association to carry out its business. Once again the two sides are beginning to identify the main areas of agreement.

The Board of Governors presented Schedules A (Sessionals only) and B as part of their proposed organization of the handbook.

Finally, the Board presented a new version of Article 4 (Applications and Exclusions). This article deals with the bargaining unit and who is, or is not, protected by the Collective Agreement. The Board of Governors expanded on their previous proposal to entirely remove Senior Administrators (Associate Deans and above) and Faculty Members serving on the Board of Governors from the protections of the Collective Agreement. Senior Academic Administrators normally hold concurrent academic appointments (i.e. as an Instructor, Academic Assistant, Professional Librarian, or Member of the Professoriate).

Currently, Senior Academic Administrators are protected by the Collective Agreement when teaching or engaging in research. This means their tenure, rank, and Academic Freedom are provided the same protections given to all other Members. Under the Board proposal, this protection would be replaced by an as-yet-unpublished Board policy governing Academic Freedom for Senior Administrators.

ULFA’s position is that a Board policy that can be rescinded unilaterally does not provide adequate protection for academic work, which is a concern for all faculty. If the Board rescinded their policy, Senior Administrators could conceivably be censured, disciplined, or fired for academic activities that would otherwise be protected by Academic Freedom provisions in the handbook.

ULFA has undertaken to research this issue further before presenting a response to the Board’s proposal.

October 25

Board ULFA
Final versions of all “Parts” 24 Appeals of Recommendations by STP Committee and Appeal Committees
29 Intellectual Property

On October 25, ULFA presented Articles 24 and 29, while the Board presented the final version of its “Parts.”

In the case of 24, the two sides seem to be very close to agreement. The ULFA proposal clarified a few places where the current language did not seem to reflect the agreement at the table. The Board side agreed to review these to ensure accuracy.

In the case of Article 29, ULFA presented a significant reorganisation to bring it more closely in line with current legislation on intellectual property, and correcting various terminological issues. Other than the reorganization, there were relatively few changes in language from that presented by the Board on June 9. In broad terms, the two sides appear to be relatively close in this article.

Over the last several months, the Board has presented a comprehensive reorganisation of the Collective Agreement by job category (i.e. Sessional Lecturer, Instructor/Academic Assistant, Professional Librarian, Professoriate). This means that a large number of Articles from the current handbook have been “tied up” in the different proposed “parts.” In some cases, the complexity of the proposal has required the Board to revise material already presented.  ULFA has been waiting for the final presentation on the proposed Parts before preparing a response. ULFA has agreed to present a counter-proposal by the end of November.

November 1

On November 1, the two sides met for a third time. Although both sides were prepared to present articles, the discussion shifted to a possible new approach to increase focus and efficiency in bargaining. Bargaining was adjourned to consider this approach and the two sides hope to reach an agreement early this week on the best way to tackle bargaining for the remainder of the Fall semester.

AUPE Information Picket

AUPE will be holding an information picket at noon on November 7th by the Northern entrance to the University (i.e. at the University and Columbia/Valley Road entrance). You can read more about the issues involved in their negotiations here. ULFA is facing a similar set of arguments in its negotiations with the Board of Governors.

We encourage all members to show their support for AUPE by attending the picket.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Originally the post contained an incorrect date. This post has been updated to show the correct date of Wednesday, November 7th.

ALRB “Bridging”

Since last January, ULFA and the Board of Governors have been involved in a discussion regarding the application of the “Bridging” provisions of the Labour Relations Code to the payment of Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) due under the current collective agreement. (You can read more about the issues at stake and background here. The history of our discussion and the involvement of the Labour Relations Board can be followed here, here, here, here, and here).

In late September, the Alberta Labour Relations Board dismissed the Board of Governors’ argument that the issue was a matter of the interpretation of the Collective Agreement. The next steps in the process were a case management meeting (scheduled for November 28) and a two day hearing (Dec. 18 and 19).

The Board of Governors has recently hired an external law firm to represent it in this case. Due to a personal emergency affecting one of the potential participants, the December hearing has now been rescheduled for February 2019. The rescheduling does not affect Members’ rights or any back-pay for the withheld COLA should ULFA’s position prove successful.

Job Action Committee Update

The Job Action Committee, newly established under ULFA’s Job Action Policy, held its first meeting on Monday, October 1. This Committee includes Dr. Kristine Alexander, Ms Andrea Amelinckx, Dr. Robert Kossuth, and resource persons Derrick Antson and Annabree Fairweather.

The Job Action Committee is responsible for planning logistics and other processes and rules in the unlikely event of a lockout or strike. The likelihood of job action is very small and cannot take place until after a series of prescribed steps have been followed as set out in the Alberta Labour Relations Code. The Committee is tasked, however, with preparing for such an eventuality, and with ensuring that the ULFA membership has the tools and information in hand that it would require in such an event.

The committee discussed ULFA’s Job Action Policy, questions that are likely to arise through this work, and the logistics that might need to be prepared.

Does having a Job Action Committee mean we are going to have job action?

No. The likelihood of job action is very small and cannot take place until after a series of prescribed steps have been followed as set out in the Alberta Labour Relations Code. One such requirement is that ULFA and the Board of Governors must have an Essential Services Agreement in place prior to any job action and while the negotiating teams have met, there is no such agreement in place at this time. Additionally, the ULFA collective bargaining team has regularly reported on the positive progress to date of bargaining on the Faculty and Sessional Lecturer Handbooks.

What is “job action” and why does it need a committee?

Job Action means a work stoppage caused by a lockout (by an employer) or a strike (by employees). The committee is created under ULFA’s Job Action Policy and its primary responsibility is to make logistical preparations that would be used in the event of job action. This committee is intended to work in tandem with the collective bargaining team and the Essential Services Agreement (ESA) bargaining team so that in the event of job action, ULFA members will be prepared and ready in advance of a lockout or a strike. Members can follow regular updates on bargaining at ulfa.ca/bargaining.

 If there’s no job action, then what does this committee do?

The Job Action Committee is needed up until the point that a new collective agreement is ratified. There’s a lot of work to do behind-the-scenes to prepare in the unlikely event of f job action. We have made some preparations already toward the new reality under which job action has become the final resort, by joining the CAUT Defence Fund and implementing a local preparedness fund.  At this early stage we are focused on assessing the logistics of job action and building educational outreach with the membership about what’s involved.

ULFA members hold the ultimate authority to mandate a strike and we know that our members are well-informed and thoughtful about collective bargaining.

We need to prepare more carefully for the possibility of a lockout initiated by the Board of Governors because that situation can occur under timelines and circumstances that are not fully within our control. The best way to protect against a lockout is to be prepared and this committee is tasked with doing the preparation.

How can I get involved?

The Job Action Policy has many parts that need to be fleshed out and the Committee is in the incipient stages of organizing itself and making plans. There’s room for help and your participation would be welcome. Currently, there is room for people to get involved who have experience from ULFA’s standing committees (the Executive, Handbooks and Economic Benefits Committees, and Gender, Equity and Diversity Committee). Even if you don’t have any experience with ULFA, this is a great committee to be a part of and could use a diversity of representation across faculties, ranks, and campuses.

I have more questions!

We have put together a list of job action frequently asked questions that might help answer some of your questions. We are exploring opportunities for a town hall to discuss some of these issues and will keep you informed about developments from our meetings.

You are also welcome to contact the Job Action Committee members:

                                           kristine.alexander@uleth.ca

                                           andrea.amelinckx@uleth.ca

                                           robert.kossuth@uleth.ca

ULFA & Administration meet to briefly plan future negotiations

Representatives of the ULFA and Administration bargaining teams met briefly on September 24 to plan future negotiations.

The meeting was cordial and constructive and both sides emerged with a stronger sense of the current state of the various articles still under discussion. There remains much work to do, in part due to the large number of articles under discussion and the fact that we are now beginning to deal with articles where the two sides have more divergent approaches.

Next negotiations are scheduled for October 22. Given the current pace, the two sides agreed to schedule meeting dates for December.

Alberta Labour Relations Board rules in ULFA’s favour

The Alberta Labour Relations Board ruled in ULFA’s favour on Friday in the first stage of an Unfair Labour Practice complaint against the University of Lethbridge’s Board of Governors  (You can read more about the key issues at stake and the history of this complaint by following the links from this post). This ruling allows the process to continue to a hearing on the substantive issues raised in ULFA’s original complaint.

The core issue in this complaint involves the continuation of terms and conditions beyond the expiration of the collective agreement on June 30, which is known as “bridging” under the provisions of the Labour Relations Code (Section 130), and the changing of terms and conditions of employment after notice to bargain has been given, which is known as a “statutory freeze” (Section 147). Specifically, ULFA argues that both sections apply to the continued payment of benefits such as COLA as it is written in the current Collective Agreement and that the failure to do so represents an unfair labour practice.

The Governors argued that the question of whether COLA should be subject to bridging was a question of how of the current Handbook(s) should be interpreted, rather than a disagreement over the application of the Code. As a result, they argued, the question was more appropriately dealt with under the Interpretation processes described in Article 1 of the current Handbook. Under Article 1, the question would be referred for resolution to a committee consisting of the ULFA and University Presidents. Should this committee fail to reach agreement, the two sides would then prepare final positions which would be referred to an Arbitrator for selection. The Arbitrator would not be allowed to mediate the dispute and Members could, conceivably, lose newly acquired rights under Bill 7.

In Friday’s ruling, the Labour Board rejected the Board of Governors’ argument.

In doing so, the Labour Board relied heavily on the tests used in U.N.A., Local 75 v. WestView Regional Health Authority, [2000] Alta. L.R.B.R. LD-031 (“WestView”), which was cited by both ULFA and the Board of Governors in their written submissions:

12 In exercising its discretion to defer to arbitration, the Board balances two public interests. The first is the public interest in having employers and unions address their day to day disputes about the workplace through their own dispute resolution process. The second is the interest in having a single tribunal oversee access to and the broad rules of collective bargaining. The primary factor is whether the application raises an issue of “statutory proportions”. See: Electrical Contractors Association of Alberta 85-016.

13 There is no easy test of when a matter raises an issue of statutory proportions. Some of the questions used by the Board to assess whether the matter is one of statutory proportions are:

  • Does the issue affect only the parties to the agreement or will it affect the labour relations community?
  • Does the collective agreement enable the arbitrator to adequately remedy the issue?
  • Is the matter primarily a statutory right or obligation, or a collective agreement right or obligation?
  • Does the issue go beyond the collective agreement to the collective bargaining relationship?
  • Is the statutory issue the main issue in the proceeding or an ancillary issue?
  • Do issues demand the labour relations expertise of the Board more than the contract interpretations expertise of an arbitrator?

On the basis of these tests, the Labour Relations Board found that “the matter raised in ULFA’s complaint is a matter of statutory proportion,” noting:

The parties are bargaining under a different statutory regime than existed when they entered into the two previous collective agreements. They are now subject to the collective bargaining provisions set out in the Code. The application of the bridging provision in section 130 of the Code must be considered and applied in the context of this dispute, as well as the freeze provisions contained in section 147(3) of the Code. The University also averted to provisions contained in the Post-secondary Learning Act in effect when the agreements were negotiated. While the Board may be required to interpret provisions in the collective agreements, this task is not an unusual one for the Board to undertake in complaints of this nature.

Indeed, the Board concluded,

The interplay of these statutory and contractual provisions raise questions unique to the post-secondary education sector which have not been addressed by the Board in previous decisions and it is possible the outcome of the decision will affect other parties in the sector.

The next steps in the Labour Board process are a case management meeting (currently scheduled for November 28) and a two day hearing (Dec. 18 and 19) all of which will take place in Calgary.