ULFA Statement Regarding COVID-19

Dear ULFA Members,

As you are well aware, the University of Lethbridge has cancelled classes for Monday, March 16th and Tuesday, March 17th. Academic staff have been asked to use Monday and Tuesday as the transition days to prepare moving lessons to alternative models beginning on Wednesday, March 18th.

ULFA has concerns about such a hurried shift in how we deliver our courses, but appreciate that the health of our students, our colleagues and ourselves needs to be addressed. Compounding the problem is the closure of schools and daycares, which places those of us with dependents in especially difficult circumstances.

I spoke to President Mike Mahon and Interim VP Academic Erasmus Okine yesterday evening and raised our concerns, and they assured me that the transition to alternative instruction will allow for the broadest possible flexibility, even if what a faculty member does amounts to posting readings to course moodle pages. No standard directive for alternative delivery was mandated for faculty members, individually, or as members of academic units. They did state, however, that the method of evaluation promised in the course outline must still be respected, so that if a final exam was part of a course evaluation scheme, it could not be cancelled. They did acknowledge that they did not know how exams would go forward in the current environment, but did promise that another message to academic staff would be forthcoming on Tuesday.

ULFA notes that this move to alternative means of delivering courses is a response to a public health emergency and does not represent a precedent regarding online course offerings in the future. As well, the copyright for any content you create in producing an alternative manner of delivering a course still remains yours.

The extra efforts we make in accommodating teaching our students in this crisis should be noted on our PARs.

In closing this note, I do want to draw your attention to some articles of our collective agreement concerning health. Should you find yourself caring for gravely ill family members, Article 33.08.3 (Compassionate Care Leave) may be of particular interest. Should you fall ill yourself, Articles 33.02 and 34.04 (Medical Leave) will be applicable.

There is also a process in place for students and faculty who utilize the self-reporting Registry to report self-isolation or absence due to illness. Once an individual registers and identifies which Faculty/School they are associated with, a message gets sent to a contact person within the Faculty/School. Once received, a representative will reach out to the individual acknowledging awareness of the situation and offering support. All communications regarding the Registry and those using are strictly confidential and not to be shared or disseminated outside of those directly contacted.

Please keep yourselves well,

David Kaminski
President, University of Lethbridge Faculty Association

Job Protections for Probationary, Continuing, and Tenured Members

Some members of our bargaining unit have recently approached members of the ULFA executive to ask about job security for members of the Academic Staff. The following document discusses the provisions of our collective agreement that protect members against layoffs and termination.

Probationary, Continuing, and Tenured members of our bargaining unit are protected by the provisions of Article 25. This requires a declaration of a financial emergency or a program redundancy by the university before any such member may be terminated (i.e. laid off). In the unlikely event of a declaration of such an emergency or redundancy, moreover, probationary, continuing, and tenured members of the faculty are further protected by seniority, recall, and retaining rights.

The requirements for declaring a “financial emergency” or “program redundancy” are, appropriately enough, very onerous and do not lead to large or easy savings. They involve the mandatory involvement of the Association in what is a public decision-making process. There are also checks and balances in place to prevent the Board from repeating this process arbitrarily.

ULFA has at the moment no reason to believe that the Board is in a state to declare either a financial emergency or program redundancy. It will also defend the interests of its members to full extent of the Collective Agreement in this and all other eventualities.

Financial emergency 

The process by which a “Financial Emergency” is declared involves multiple steps including the formation of a required joint management-union committee and report to review the situation and the proposed remedies, including any layoffs or reassignments.

This section of the Collective Agreement was revised last round of bargaining. Some key points:

  1. Before a Financial Emergency can be declared, the Board of Governors and Faculty Association must create a joint Financial Emergency Commission (FEC) consisting of 2 Association Representatives and 2 Representatives from the Board of Governors, plus an independent chair, selected by mutual agreement or appointed by the director of mediation services for the province under the labour code.
  2. The FEC is required to verify
    1. Whether a financial emergency exists; and 
    2. That the Board of Governors have made a good faith effort to avoid the declaration through a number of common methods (redeployment, revenue enhancement, leaves of absences, early retirements, and so on.
  3. The FEC minutes are to be made available to members of the University community and may include oral evidence.
  4. The FEC is required to report within 35 working days of the President’s notice that an emergency may exist. This report shall indicate whether the FEC agrees a financial emergency exists, a recommendation of the amount of reduction required, and a recommendation of the amount, if any to be recovered through termination or layoff.
  5. After this report, the Board and the Association may renegotiate any relevant articles in the collective agreement or reach other mutually acceptable provisions in order to avoid a state of financial emergency.
  6. Only if the negotiations in 5 fail, may the Board of Governors finally decide whether a state of Financial Emergency exists that requires layoffs from the probationary, continuing, and tenured faculty.
  7. If the Board decides a financial emergency does not exist as a result of the preceding, it may not give notice for substantially the same reasons for a period of at least 12 months.

Program redundancy

Program redundancy is a process by which individual majors are declared redundant, resulting in one or more positions occupied by probationary, continuing, or tenured members being declared unnecessary.

In this case, the Board must first receive a recommendation from GFC and members of the academic unit(s) affected must be first given a chance to comment to GFC on the proposed redundancy.

In the event of a request from the president to make a program redundant, a Redundancy Committee must be struck including

  1. A Chair appointed by GFC, 
  2. 2 members + 1 alternate appointed by GFC;
  3. 1 member appointed by the Provost;
  4. The dean of the Faculty;
  5. A non-voting member appointed by the Association.

Once again, hearings of the committee are to be released to the public. The report of the Committee must be considered by GFC. Only at this point may the Board consider a recommendation to declare a program redundant.

Career transition

In the event that a program is declared redundant, affected faculty must be offered a career transition incentive program after consultation with the Association and make reasonable efforts to provide reassignment of the affected employees. Reassignment may not affect rank or salary and any required retraining must be at the Board’s expense.

Seniority and recall

Finally, lay offs, should they occur, must occur in reverse order of seniority — in other words, the most junior (and hence usually lowest paid) faculty must be laid off before more senior members of the same unit, except that the Provost may designate a maximum of 12% of the faculty as excluded from layoff, based on previously approved academic plans.

Anybody who is laid off under the provisions of Article 25 shall have a right of first refusal for any position in their former department or faculty for two years and to be considered as an internal candidate for non-academic jobs for up to a year.

Voluntary retirement and termination

Members may request (or be offered) at any time a voluntary separation from the university, through retirement or voluntary resignation. The Articles governing this process are {{}}.

Although it is not required under these articles, members who accept voluntary termination or retirement are commonly compensated, often significantly, for this agreement. 

ULFA has considerable experience in this area and members are strongly advised both to consult with ULFA before and during any process under these articles and to request accompaniment in meetings with management as allowed under Article 11.02.6.