ESA Negotiating Update

The teams representing the Board and ULFA met to begin negotiating a new Essential Services Agreement (ESA) Tuesday December 8th. Each new Collective Agreement requires a new ESA. ULFA proposed in writing to the Board that the ESA should be negotiated at a second table beginning before negotiations on the CA resume in January. In the same letter, ULFA provided the names of our team members (Locke Spencer, Dawn McBride, Rumi Graham, Olu Awosoga, and Rob Sutherland (Chair)). In response the Board provided the names of their team members (Scott Harling (Chair), Jennifer Copeland, and Carolin Cattoi-Demkiw) and a date to begin was agreed upon. At that first meeting the Chair of the Board’s team, Mr. Scott Harling, indicated that he did not feel that a sufficient notice to bargain had been received by the Board. After a short discussion, it was agreed that ULFA would send another notice, this time under the title “Notice to Bargain”. ULFA agreed to prepare a new and complete ESA for discussion at the next negotiation session (TBD).

Essential Service Agreement (ESA) Negotiations to begin

ULFA and the Board have agreed to negotiate a new ESA in the lead up to the resumption of negotiations over the Collective Agreement. An ESA is required by law in the case of job action or lock-out. This agreement determines which (if any) union members can and must continue to work during any job action or lock-out, and which tasks they should continue to perform. ESAs and associated job action protocols are important because they ensure that neither the University nor relations between Faculty and Administration are permanently damaged in the case of job action.

ULFA has been consulting with Members around their experiences with the pandemic shut-down, and is trying to incorporate lessons learned from that experience into its new ESA proposal. Members who wish to contribute to this process are encouraged to contact any member of ULFA’s ESA negotiating team.

The Board will be represented in ESA negotiations by Carolin Cattoi-Demkiw (Manager, Safety Services); Jennifer Copeland (Associate Dean, Arts and Science); and Scott Harling (Team Lead, University Legal Counsel Office). ULFA will be represented by Rob Sutherland (Chair), Rumi Graham, Locke Spencer, Olu Awosoga, and Dawn McBride, with Aaron Chubb joining as staff support.

A first meeting for these negotiations has been set for December 8.

Bargaining update November 27, 2020

Over the past month, the ULFA and Board of Governors negotiating teams exchanged several letters in search of a path forward that effectively addresses the concerns noted by ULFA in our October 23, 2020 bargaining update. 

A mutually agreed path is now in place, which is based on a proposal made by ULFA in early November. The key elements of the plan, accepted by both teams, are that:

  1. Bargaining on the Collective Agreement is suspended until January 18, 2021;
  2. On January 18, 2021, the ULFA and Board negotiating teams will exchange proposals constituting a complete initial offer on all items to be changed in the Collective Agreement, including monetary issues and terms; and that
  3. The parties will resume collective bargaining no later than January 22, 2021, unless there is some unavoidable delay (for example, relating to the pandemic).

The Board team accepted the ULFA team’s proposal that in the interim, negotiations commence on a new Essential Services Agreement (ESA). More about the latter will be shared in a separate blog post. 

In the meantime, other Faculty Associations in the province are reporting on offers made by their respective administrations. We hope to say more about the current bargaining scene in a future post.


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.