Progress on an Essential Services Agreement

According the Alberta Labour Code, ULFA and the Board of Governors must establish an Essential Services Agreement (ESA). The terms of this agreement specify which academic staff activities must be continued in the case of a job action in order to protect public health and safety. Background on this required bargaining process can be found in an earlier post here and here. ULFA and the Board have met several times already to discuss the parameters of this bargaining and discussion is ongoing.

Initially the Board stated that no academic staff covered by our collective agreement provide any services that would be considered essential under the legislation. At the table we agreed to conduct a survey of our Members to cast a broad net to ensure that Members who might be providing essential services were not overlooked. Both sides examined the resulting survey responses and agreed that a next step would be to interview our Members, focusing on those who indicated that their duties may require coverage in the event of job action.

The ESA bargaining process is separate from the Handbook negotiations, and requires a different approach. The objective for ULFA is to ensure the health and safety of the University community is protected in the event of job action (strike or lockout), but also to have as few people as possible be put in the position of having to cross picket lines. We believe this approach aligns with the Board of Governor’s objectives as well, which opens the door to more creative problem-solving at the ESA bargaining table.

Representatives of both sides (Kelly Williams-Whitt and Rob Sutherland for ULFA) will participate in interviews of more than a dozen of our members next week (January 28 and 30) to collect more detailed information for establishing an ESA.

Bargaining update (December 20); ALRB Resolution Conference (January 8); Town Halls (Jan 9 and 10)

December 20

ULFA and representatives of the Board of Governors met on December 20th. The sides discussed four articles (as always, you can follow the progress of negotiations here):

ULFA Board of Governors
6 Communication and Information
11 Rights and Responsibilities
16 Termination of Appointment
32 Salary Schedules, Career Progress Increments, Merit Increments, and Economic Benefits

The main item of discussion was Article 6 (Communication and Information). Although the two sides have agreed to a lot of language in this article in five exchanges over the past few months, the previous version presented by the Board of Governors on November 15 moved away from some of these originally common positions. In this sixth exchange of the Article, ULFA hoped to reintroduce some areas of previous agreement and bring things nearer to a close.

In a detailed discussion lasting approximately half the available time, the two sides discussed various practical and philosophical issues with regard to the article: the degree to which specific types of information are truly necessary for co-management of the Collective Agreement (now statutorily required under the Labour Code); how easy or difficult it is to collect certain kinds of information; and broader questions of management rights and the contractual function of letters of appointment. The Board of Governors will use this discussion to inform their next response on this article.

Articles 11 and 32 were also fully presented with discussion. Article 11 deals with several aspects of Academic Freedom and responsibility, including duties towards students and colleagues. Article 32 discusses various aspects of the way salary, increments, and other economic benefits are determined. This was a first response by the Board of Governors to this article, which ULFA had initially presented in June. The Board presented their response in this meeting at the request of ULFA, who want to include this material in their broader response to the Board’s “parts” (a thorough-going reorganisation of the Collective Agreement proposed by the Board of Governors in various stages from June through November 2018). Finally at the end of the session, the Board of Governors handed over a response to Article 16 (Termination of Appointment). Since there was little time to discuss this article, the two sides agreed to reserve further discussion until the next meeting (January 17).

The two sides have a long-standing agreement that ULFA will begin its presentation of a response to the “Parts” beginning on January 17. The presentation of the full response should require three meetings and as a result is expected to conclude in February.

ALRB Resolution Conference

The two sides met at the ALRB on January 8th for a Resolution Conference regarding the payment of COLA which, in ULFA’s view, is required by the Labour Code. The purpose of a Resolution Conference is to determine whether there is scope for the two sides to come to agreement before a full hearing.

The Resolution Conference took the form of a mediation session. The two sides met separately with a Labour Board representative (in this case, Commissioner Gwen Gray). Ms Gray began with ULFA, discussing its understanding of the issues and devoting particular attention to the details of the “Expedited Package” it presented last December. She then went to discuss the case with the Board of Governors representatives.

After a brief return for clarification with ULFA, Ms Grey indicated that no resolution seemed possible. The two sides then met for a case management meeting in which legal counsel for both sides explored positions, and discussed the documentation and witnesses they intend to call at the hearing.

Town Halls

On January 9 and 10 representatives from ULFA’s bargaining team met with Instructors and Academic Assistants. The goal of these town halls was to

  • seek input on some language ULFA was considering adding to the Instructor/Academic Assistant article (Article 15);
  • discuss the current state of negotiations and game out responses to various possible bargaining outcomes.

The bargaining team would like to thank all Members who attended the town halls for their insights and contributions to some very helpful discussions.

ULFA will be holding a number of town halls over the course of the semester with different employee groups to continue this discussion. Although some town halls may be aimed at specific employee groups, all Members are welcome to attend any of the town hall meetings.

Bargaining update: December 4

Bargaining teams for the Board of Governors and ULFA met as scheduled on Tuesday December 4.

ULFA brought proposals to the meeting for Article 6 (Communication), 11 (Rights and Responsibilities), and 26 (Financial Emergency and Redundancy). The Board of Governors’ team brought a proposal for Article 9 (Personal Files).

The meeting ended up focussed entirely on Article 9. The Board of Governors’ team made its presentation and then asked the ULFA team to take a caucus to consider whether it would be able to agree the proposed language in principle. After a brief review that uncovered a number of relevant discrepancies between this proposal and ULFA’s previous language for this article, we re-convened to discuss how to use the remainder of our meeting, and engaged in a short but productive discussion of the differences we had observed. ULFA then indicated that it could either take Article 9 and return with a new proposal next meeting or take a longer caucus to revise the Board’s current language during this meeting. The Board side asked ULFA to take a longer caucus to prepare a counter-proposal for presentation in the same meeting.

After about 75 minutes, the two sides met again and ULFA presented its counter-proposal. With a few additional edits, the two sides were able to come to agreement. This also coincided with the end of the three-hour session. You can follow the status of all articles in this round of negotiations here.

This is the first time we have taken this approach in negotiations. In all, the two sides spent between 45 and 60 minutes in face-to-face discussions and almost two hours in caucus. While it is not unusual for teams to work like this on a single article towards the end of contract negotiations, it is somewhat less common to see it with so much still on the table, and in relation to a relatively technical article like Article 9.

Both sides agreed to bring proposals to the next scheduled bargaining session on December 20, and that for ULFA this means bringing our proposals for Articles 6, 11, and 26 since they were not presented on December 4.

November 27 Bargaining Update

Board of governors rejects ULFA’s proposal for expedited bargaining

The two parties met on Tuesday November 27th so that the Board of Governors’ representatives could present their response to ULFA’s proposed expedited package for negotiations. You can read more about the history of this proposal here, here, and here.

The Board of Governors’ team did not bring any language to the meeting. They indicated instead that they believed that the two sides were too far apart to complete the expedited process within the agreed-upon time-frame and, as a result, said that they were not willing to continue bargaining within the proposed expedited framework.

Under the ground rules to which the two sides agreed before ULFA presented its package, the Board of Governors’ decision brought the expedited process to an end. As previously agreed, the two sides now return to positions they presented on or before November 15, the last day of regular negotiations (you can see the progress of regular and expedited negotiations here).

Why did the expedited package fail?

The failure of the expedited package was always considered a possibility by both sides. Because it is an example of the very different type of bargaining possible with a single table, we believe it is important for our membership to understand how the process worked and some of the possible reasons why the Board of Governors rejected the expedited package at this time.

ULFA presented the offer after the Board of Governors’ representatives asked what it would take for ULFA to suspend its “bridging” complaint to the Labour Board.  The complaint is in regards to the Governors’ failure to pay a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) on July 1, 2018 as the Association asserts is required by its Collective Agreement and the Labour Code.  (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, here, and here.)

ULFA’s proposal for expedited bargaining answered this question by creating a way to mitigate the risk of either side losing at the Labour Board.

The main risk to ULFA of the Labour Board hearing is essentially that a loss will make the status quo permanent. The Board of Governors has already withheld the July 1, 2018 COLA; if we lose at the Board, then our members will continue to receive the 0s they are already receiving. They will have lost the COLA adjustment we believe that they are owed. But nobody will be worse (or better) off after a loss than they have been since the Board of Governors began withholding that payment.  

The risk to the Board of Governors at the Labour Board hearing is the possibility of a decision requiring them to pay 2.2% in COLA backdated to July 1, 2018 and continuing forward until negotiations conclude. ULFA believes that this will cost the Board approximately $1.2 million in 2018-2019 with an additional similarly sized increase compounding this loss on July 1, 2019 should negotiations still be in progress.  

Beyond this, both sides will incur potentially substantial legal fees if we cannot settle before the scheduled Labour Board hearing date in February.

In addition to offering cost certainty for the parties, ULFA’s proposal offered the Board of Governors an opportunity to save a significant proportion of their potential loss in 2018-2019 (with additional saving in future years and a saving in legal fees) in exchange for an expedited settlement on terms, conditions, and benefits that are important to ULFA’s membership. This would mean that ULFA members would have given up a portion of the money we believe they are entitled to otherwise in exchange for settlement on important language and benefits. A major emphasis of the ULFA package included terms that would bring protections for our most vulnerable members up to the standard of our comparator institutions.

ULFA’s proposed approach only makes sense if the Board of Governors considered their chances of losing at the Labour Board sufficiently high to be worth the cost of mitigation. The Board of Governors representatives indicated at the table, however, that they are very confident in their position and do not expect to lose. If their assumption is correct, then their rejection of ULFA’s proposed compromise probably makes good tactical sense. Since ULFA’s members are facing potential gains in the bridging case compared to the Board of Governors’ current refusal to pay COLA but no potential loss, the choice facing ULFA’s bargaining team was far less high-stakes a gamble.

Next steps

ULFA will now resume its work on a response to the Board’s “Parts”– shorthand for its proposal to reorganise many articles in the Handbook by employee category (you can read more about this here, here, here, here, here, and here). ULFA had previously accepted in principle the idea of organising information so that it is easy to use by Members in each job category, though it had expressed fundamental reservations about the details of the approach taken by the Board in its initial proposal. It will now present an alternative that streamlines the Board’s proposal and addresses ULFA’s concerns. ULFA indicated that it should be able to present an outline of this proposal with some initial examples three meetings from now.

In the meantime, the two parties have positions for which they are awaiting responses from the other side. In ULFA’s case, it must prepare responses (in addition to articles caught up in the “Parts”) to previously presented Board positions on Articles 2, 4, 5, 6, 11, 26, 29, and Schedules A and B. In the Board’s case, ULFA is awaiting responses on Articles 9, 16, 22, 25, 32, 33, and “36” (a proposed new article on equity language) as well as most of the Schedules other than A and B. In addition, the Board previously presented a partial response to ULFA’s proposal for a new typology of leaves (Article 34), promising a more complete counter-proposal at a later date.

The Board side also indicated at this meeting that it intends to establish a website for publishing information about the progress of bargaining. They have since informed us that updates will be posted to the following URL (requires a uleth username and password): https://uleth.sharepoint.com/sites/BargainingUpdates. They indicate that no updates pertaining to the negotiations with ULFA have been posted to date.

Job Action Committee Update

On November 30, the ULFA Job Action Committee (JAC) had a productive meeting with its new members to the committee as well as with members of the ULFA Bargaining Team. The Bargaining Team provided an update on recent bargaining developments, which were very informative and will help direct the committee in its organization.

The Committee is looking forward to working together with the bargaining team and with our members during the course of negotiations.

Please join us at the ULFA Fall General Meeting (12 pm, 6 December 2018, PE 275) when JAC Co-Chairs Kristine Alexander & Rob Kossuth will discuss the work of the committee. In addition to Kristine and Rob, the committee has grown in recent weeks to include Andrea Amelinckx, Chad Povey, Ying Zheng, Heather Ladd, Chris Churchill, and Robbin Derry.