Gaslighting 101: What it really means to meet at the table

Gaslighting: [presenting] a false narrative to another group or person which leads them to doubt their perceptions and become misled (generally for the gaslighter’s own benefit), disoriented or distressed.

“Gaslighting,” Wikipedia.

It has been 19 days since the Board of Governors’ negotiating team has been at the bargaining table. During this time ULFA has issued several unconditional invitations to begin negotiations, all of which have been refused.

In recent statements to the press and on their blog, however, the Board claims otherwise:

The University of Lethbridge is increasingly concerned about the impacts of the University of Lethbridge Faculty Association (ULFA) strike on students and the union’s refusal to meet at the negotiating table to discuss our fiscal circumstances.

Board of Governors Blog Post, February 26

Indeed they suggest that it is ULFA that has resisted the invitations:

Despite contrary claims, ULFA has refused repeated invitations to meet since Feb. 15 to discuss more reasonable salary demands. We continue to welcome ULFA to meet at the collective bargaining table for serious negotiations in the hopes of ending the ULFA strike and welcoming students back to class.

Board of Governors Blog Post, February 26

As is often the case with the Board, these statements are both untrue and easily disproved.

In fact, negotiation meetings have been discussed several times in correspondence between the Board and ULFA since the strike began. In each case the invitation was from ULFA and unconditional and the rejection came from the Board (ULFA has never refused to meet with the Board negotiating team; the Board has issued no invitations to a meeting since the strike and lockout began).

The first refusal was in a letter from the Board Negotiation team to the ULFA team in a letter of February 15:

So, again, our proposal of February 10, 2022, reflects what the Board is willing to agree to and fully offers our mandate. A meeting would not be productive in that context.

Board to ULFA, Feb 15, 2022

The second was in a letter from the Board Negotiating team to ULFA’s on February 17:

As we said on February 15, 2022, we reviewed that proposal with care. Our perception is that it aligns quite closely with your proposal of February 4, 2022 (save Schedule A). That proposal was unacceptable then, and it is still not acceptable today. That is why we advised you that, “A meeting would not be productive in that context.”

Board to ULFA, Feb 17, 2022

The third was on on February 24:

We are of the view that if, formally or informally and in light of MRU’s newly settled MOA, you can now embrace the economic framework outlined in the Board’s offer of February 10, 2022, that removes a substantial hurdle to resolving our dispute. That would also provide stability to this process.

If you are not prepared to do that, then the meeting would be a mere formality as we have tabled our full economic mandate, as we have pointed out several times.

Board to ULFA, Feb 24, 2022

Under section 60 of the Alberta Labour Relations Code, Bargaining agents are required to

(a) meet and commence, or cause authorized representatives to meet and commence, to bargain collectively in good faith, and
(b) make every reasonable effort to enter into a collective agreement.

Alberta Labour Relations Code, Section 60(1)(a) and (b)

An important part of this obligation is, well, meeting.

Bargaining is the process by which parties attempt to reach an agreement between their respective mandates. That can only happen if the two sides are meeting to discuss how this might occur. Good faith bargaining involves more than refusing to meet unless the other side accepts your position.

Mandates are where you start, not where you end. They are by definition the thing you do not get when you engage in good faith bargaining — because both sides have mandates and negotiations is the art of finding a compromise between them.

And that requires actually meeting.