FAQs for Students about ULFA and Job Action

What is the university?

This might seem like a silly question, but it is not. The university is the sum of its students, faculty, and staff. When functioning properly it is a “community of scholars.” Don’t be fooled by the administration’s implication that they are “the university” as they often relay in their correspondence with students. It is students and faculty that form the core of the institution.

What is the University of Lethbridge Faculty Association (ULFA)?

ULFA is the union and collective bargaining unit for the faculty at the University of Lethbridge. It represents your professors, instructors, academic assistants, and librarians. ULFA is currently at a negotiating impasse with the University of Lethbridge Board of Governors (BoG) who include the university’s senior administration (president and vice presidents).

What is job action?

Job action is either a strike initiated by ULFA, or a lockout initiated by the administration. It happens when there is a bargaining impasse between the employer (BoG) and the employees (ULFA). The BoG and ULFA have been negotiating for nearly two years. Most recently, mediation has not been able to bridge the gap between the two sides and the threat of job action is the next step in the process to break the impasse.

What is a strike?

A strike is when the members of a union withhold their services from their employer. In this case ULFA and the BoG.

Currently, ULFA has received permission from the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) to hold a strike vote on February 2nd and 3rd.

What is a lockout?

This is like a strike but would be initiated by the BoG. ULFA members would not be able to access the university campuses (in Lethbridge or Calgary), including their offices, laboratories and other campus resources for the purpose of their usual job activities. ULFA is not aware of any application for lockout action currently.

What are the issues?

ULFA members have been without a contract since June 30, 2020 – which as of February 2022, is over a year and a half. Attempts at negotiations and mediation have failed to bring the two parties close enough on crucial mandate items and hence the call for a strike vote by ULFA in order to bring the BoG to the bargaining table with a fair offer. The issues are both monetary and non-monetary.

ULFA members have not received a pay increase since 2016 and ULFA voluntarily took a 1% salary rollback in 2013 to help our university meet financial needs at the time – our university was the only one in Alberta to do this. As a result, these losses have compounded and now ULFA members are at a salary disadvantage relative to our comparator institutions as inflation has eroded the real purchasing power of earnings. This is a problem for both faculty and students because it reduces the ability of our university to attract and retain the quality faculty that U of L students have come to expect, appreciate, AND deserve!

Non-monetary issues are also significant and include collegial governance (where faculty have the appropriate input into the operations of the university), and respect from the administration. The latter has been sorely lacking the past number of years as faculty are treated like liabilities to the institution, rather than the assets that they. Faculty have routinely not been part of important decisions but rather consulted superficially and left ill informed on critical issues such as faculty restructuring, budget, and timetabling.

It is important that ULFA members receive a reasonable settlement, lest these problems continue to affect the growth and resilience of the university and its students well into the future.

How did we get here?

Despite the best efforts of its negotiating team, the administration has consistently stonewalled ULFA by delaying negotiations, wasting time, and putting forward unrealistic proposals. The latter tactic is known as “anchor bargaining” in which opening offers are made that are so terrible that anything else will look good by comparison (even a slightly less terrible offer). The supposed “concessions” that BoG alluded to in their messaging are a part of their plan to have ULFA accept a poor settlement.

Will the faculty really go on strike?

The decision to go forward with a strike is extremely difficult and has not been taken lightly by ULFA members. However, due to the lack of success in negotiation and mediation, this is now a very real possibility. A strike, or at least the threat of a strike, is the only tool that ULFA has left given the stalled negotiations. The only times in which ULFA has had any action taken by the BoG was when pressure was applied.

What is the earliest a strike could happen?

Alberta labour law states that a legal strike can be called by ULFA between 72 hours and 120 days following the receipt by the BoG of ULFA’s intent to strike. The earliest this could happen would be Monday, February 7th since the results of the strike vote will be available on Friday, February 4th.

Is a strike a certainty?

No. Calling for a strike vote is a tactic to force the administration back to the bargaining table and to negotiate an acceptable offer for ULFA members. Often negotiations are concluded in the brief period between the notice of the intent to strike and the strike deadline. Reaching a settlement before a strike occurs would be ideal, however, this requires the BoG to make a fair offer.

How will classes be affected?

Since ULFA members are to withhold their labour, this means that classes, labs, thesis defences, etc. will be postponed until the job action is settled. Students will still have access to their emails, Moodle, etc., but faculty will not be conducting classes, grading assignments, responding to student queries, and so on. The administration has already said that faculty email and access to other university computer resources will cease for the duration of any job action.

Can campus still be accessed by students?

Yes. ULFA members will not prohibit students from crossing the picket lines. Parking, the library, the SU building and other services will remain open. However, the BoG may choose to lock out both students and employees from the university campuses and online resources in response to a strike from ULFA, and this decision lies solely with the BoG.

Can I join the picket lines?

Yes, by all means! The faculty would appreciate your support. While details have yet to be announced, there will be picket lines at the two main entrances to the main U of L campus, as well as picket lines at the Calgary campus and the Penny Building in downtown Lethbridge. Information about strike-related events will be forthcoming and details will be continuously posted on the ULFA website (ulfa.ca).

How long will a strike last?

Strikes in the post-secondary education sector normally do not last long. The recent strike at Concordia University of Edmonton, for example, lasted only 10 days. The average length of such strikes in Canada is about three weeks. The administration has claimed that the “onset and duration of a strike are at the discretion of ULFA.” This is not true. It depends on the administration’s willingness to negotiate in good faith and present a fair offer to faculty.

Will the semester be cancelled?

This is not the decision of the faculty; the administration will make this call. However, in the history of job action in the post-secondary education sector in Canada, a semester has never been cancelled. This is simply a scare tactic commonly used by administrations to gain favour with students.

Will the semester dates change?

This is likely, depending on if there is job action and how long it lasts.

What happens to me in the event of job action (i.e., a strike or lockout?)

ULFA members are committed to minimizing the disruption to our students, but in either case instructors who are ULFA members will be withholding their teaching services until the job action is ended and a return to work agreement is concluded between the BoG and ULFA.

Please know that ULFA members love our teaching and care deeply about the success and wellbeing of our university and its students. For most ULFA members, we take the action to strike equally with disappointment in our administration and concerned thoughts for the inconvenience this may cause for our students. However, we have been placed with this difficult choice and now we must do what is necessary to uphold the quality and integrity of education at U of L. Our choices, actions, and the outcomes, also set the example for other institutions across Alberta and Canada. ULFA members greatly appreciate the outpouring of support we have received from students and we look forward to continuing to work together to keep our institution strong!

Many of your instructors have likely sent you an alternative email address and will be available to answer any non-course related questions you may have about the strike, mental health supports, etc. Recall that faculty email will not be available during any job action, but do not feel that your instructors are abandoning you. They are not and we all look forward to seeing you again in the classroom to continue our studies and research!

How can I keep abreast about what is happening?

Here are some additional resources you may want to access. All of these resources will be updated regularly as our situation continues to develop.

University of Lethbridge Student Union (ULSU)

University of Lethbridge Graduate Students’ Association

The University of Lethbridge Faculty Association (ULFA)