At the CAUT presidents’ forum this afternoon, the President of the Concordia University Edmonton Faculty Association (CUEFA) announced that their negotiating team had reached a tentative agreement with the Concordia University Edmonton (CUE) administration last night. The details have been presented to the membership for review, and a ratification vote is planned in the next few days.
The settlement comes after a ten-day strike. During this time, CUEFA members received support in the form of substantial financial donations, staff work, and “flying pickets” (i.e visiting picketers) from staff and faculty unions across the country and province, including ULFA, AUPE, and our colleagues in the Confederation of Alberta Faculty Associations (CAFA).
This was a historic strike — the first in Alberta under “Bill 7,” the 2017 act that brought Alberta law in line with the Supreme Court Saskatchewan Federation of Labour decision that enshrined the right to strike for unions in Post-Secondary Education (PSE).
The strike was also historic as a demonstration of the power of solidarity, within and among unions.
The CUE administration, like the administrations of many universities in the province, were seeking major concessions from their faculty association on both money and “language” (i.e. terms and conditions of employment). As we have seen at many tables, they were seeking minimal Cost-of-Living adjustments, reduction in job security (allowing for easier layoffs and dismissal), and increases in workload. As we have also seen elsewhere, the administration was also bargaining very slowly, offering relatively few negotiating days and often appearing to do very little on the days that they did agree to meet.
It was only after the strong positive strike vote that things began to change for CUEFA. The administration agreed to the Union’s proposal on workload days after the vote. They dropped demands for reduction in job security one day after the strike began. They agreed to submit salary demands to binding arbitration a few days after that. And they agreed to settle the final outstanding issues last night, only hours before representatives from staff and faculty unions from across the province and country, including ULFA, were about to join the CUEFA picket line.
The strike was also important because it led to the formation in Alberta of a province-wide solidarity council. Under the leadership of AUPE members in Calgary, staff and faculty unions across the province met regularly to support CUEFA. We supplied staff support. We donated money. We planned joint press releases and other communications. We scouted locations for secondary pickets. We coordinated with CAUT to arrange for flying pickets today and last Friday.
With so many unions in a situation similar to that in which CUEFA found itself at the beginning of the new year, we have agreed to keep the council active throughout the rest of this bargaining round. This means that we can expect to support other unions in the province as they too head towards job action in the face of intransigent administrations. An important goal of the council is to ensure that any job action in the province is “provincialised” — that is to say supported by all unions in the Post Secondary sector.
At the U of L we remain in formal mediation. The last few days have seen some positive developments at the table, though there is still much to do. We have agreed with the mediator to restrict communications about the details of mediation until it is complete.
The members of our negotiating team have spent dozens of hours at the table since the Board first requested the intervention of a mediator. Other committees involved in bargaining (Bargaining Resource and Job Action) have been equally active, making sure that we are ready for any possible outcome from the current discussions.
Because there had never been a Post Secondary strike in Alberta until now, it was an open question how well and effectively staff and faculty unions across the province would respond when one occurred. The CUEFA strike showed that we are ready.