Background
Post-secondary institutions in Alberta have been operating under the Labour Relations Code only since May 4, 2017 when the Alberta Government passed Bill 7. Under this new environment, if our Collective Agreement expires and we are unable to come to terms, ULFA has the right to strike, and the university has the right to lock us out. For more information about the new labour environment, see these blog posts: Negotiating in a Strike/Lockout Environment; CAFA 2017 Meeting Following Bill 7; Letter from ULFA President David Kaminski in 2017 on Right to Strike.

Since the ultimate arbiter of a labour dispute is now job action, the strength of ULFA’s bargaining position during negotiations depends upon the extent to which our members support the mandate the bargaining team is bringing to the table.

Developing a Mandate: what we’ve been up to
ULFA’s Bargaining Resource Committee has been working hard this Fall with the goal of preparing a strong mandate for our bargaining team, with the next round of negotiations set to begin early in 2020. Having a strong bargaining mandate is particularly critical because the new provincial government has signaled that it will be sending our Board a secret directive that will dictate their negotiating mandate.
With the support and help of other members, Bargaining Resource Committee members have completed semi-structured interviews with approximately 100 ULFA members across all of the faculties to listen to the priorities that our members have for the upcoming negotiations. Based upon what we heard we conducted two Town Hall meetings to discuss the issues that seem to be on the minds of most members.

Major Themes
Some of the issues that have arisen broadly and repeatedly through these forums have been:

  • Cost of Living Adjustments: a significant number of members are very upset about low adjustments in recent years. More are extremely concerned about the possibility of a roll-back that is facing other public sector unions in the province who had wage re-openers in their Collective Agreements (for example, the nurses and teachers) and are adamant that any roll-back would be unacceptable.
  • Merit: many of our members believe that the current system of merit increments is broken. However, their ideas on how to fix it are very divergent and not always compatible.
  • Collegial Governance: increasing member representation on bodies such as the Board of Governors, the General Faculties Council, the Budget Advisory Committee, and search committees for senior academic administrators has been a recurring theme in our discussions.
  • Equity and Diversity: members have many ideas for improving the limited equity and diversity provisions that appear in the Collective Agreement. Some of these involve general changes around issues such as service that tend to have a greater impact on members of equity-seeking groups; others involve specifically targeted language.
  • Improvements for Sessional Lecturers: many members have pointed out ways in which conditions for sessional lecturers and term academic staff remain poor, despite significant improvements in the last round of negotiations, and would like to see additional improvements in this area.
  • Places not to Make Concessions: recognising that bargaining involves negotiations, members have also been alerting us to places that they would not want to see ULFA make any concessions in bargaining. These include wages, career progress increments, benefits, and workload.
  • Collaborate with Students: Given changes in the provincial budget that affect students’ finances (including raises to the tuition cap, changes to the student loan program, etc.), many members want ULFA to work closely with students and avoid any perception that any improvement to our working conditions could come at their expense.

Financial Context
There is a lot of important context that should go into any consideration of the financial aspects of negotiations. A separate blog entry will be posted shortly, in which we will provide the charts that were discussed at the Town Hall meetings. These include information about recent salary adjustments, comparisons to salaries at other universities, and impacts from the provincial budget on university operating grants and also to students’ finances. We will include any relevant new information that may be presented at the university’s Town Hall meeting on the provincial budget.

Next Steps: survey coming!

Using the data from all of these interviews and meetings, as well as the Town Hall meeting on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, the Bargaining Resource Committee is working to create a survey that will be distributed to all members soon. Please keep an eye out for this survey, and complete it to the best of your ability. The more information ULFA has about the priorities of all of our members, the stronger the mandate we will be able to build for the bargaining team.