There have been several developments in the University of Lethbridge Faculty Association (ULFA)’s application to the Alberta Labour Relations Board for a ruling on the number of bargaining units it represents in this year’s negotiations. You can read more about the background to this application in previous posts, here, here, and here.
The University of Lethbridge and ULFA have both filed responses in this case. The Faculty Associations of Mount Royal University (MRFA) and the University of Alberta (AASUA) have also jointly requested intervenor status. All these submissions are public documents. You can access them here.
The ALRB has set a date for a resolution meeting (at which the two parties will attempt to reach an agreement or at least address some procedural issues as case management) on February 6. If the parties fail to reach an agreement at this meeting, a hearing has been set for February 12 and 13 in Calgary.
Background information (history, stakes, implications)
As the case has progressed, it has become clear that important points of law are at stake. In the rest of this post we discuss the background to the case and its current status.
A little over two weeks ago, ULFA filed a request for a ruling with the ALRB regarding the number of bargaining units represented by the Association under the Labour Relations Code.
The ALRB agreed to an expedited response and hearing schedule for this case (Case number GE-07696). This involved shortened deadlines for responses from the parties and an early hearing date. The schedule was expedited because of the time-sensitive nature of our collective bargaining. It is essential that ULFA and the University resolve this disagreement prior to the start of collective bargaining.
As the joint submission of the MRFA and AASUA argues, this case involves fundamental principles of statutory interpretation as determined by the Supreme Court of Canada. It also will have profound implications for labour relations in the Post-Secondary sector in Alberta. Indeed, they argue, “every public post-secondary institution and their paired academic staff association in Alberta will be directly affected by the [Labour Relations] Board’s decision” in this case.
The issues at stake
The heart of the case involves the question of how many “bargaining units” ULFA represents among the “Academic Staff” of the University of Lethbridge.
“Academic Staff” is an official designation under the Post Secondary Learning Act (PSLA) and Labour Relations Code (Code) of Alberta. The membership of this class is designated by a University’s Board of Governors (under the current acts) in consultation with the Faculty Association. At the University of Lethbridge, the “Academic Staff” currently includes Faculty Members (i.e. Assistant, Associate, and Full Professors), Librarians, Instructors, Academic Assistants, and Sessional Lecturers.
The University’s position, based primarily on what it claims to be past practice and differences in the communities of interest, is that this designated group is divided into two “Bargaining Units,” each of which has a separate collective agreement. One of these consists of Sessional Lecturers; the other all other members of the Academic Staff (i.e. the Professoriate, Librarians, Instructors, Academic Assistants). The University argues that the two collective agreements are entirely distinct and that future bargaining must continue along these same lines.
ULFA’s position, in contrast, argues that the historical bargaining practice is largely or wholly irrelevant to the question of law at issue. ULFA also disagrees with the University’s characterization of our bargaining history and its description of the community of interest represented by the Academic Staff. In ULFA’s view, Academic Staff under the current law, regardless of purported past bargaining practice, form a single Bargaining Unit represented by a single collective agreement. ULFA has also argued that the two collective agreements are more intertwined and not nearly as different than the University suggests.
MRFA and AASUA argue that the “past practice” of the parties is completely immaterial and that the provincial and federal laws simply do not allow for the Board to decide that there are two bargaining units between ULFA and the U of L.
Implications for bargaining
The question of how many “Bargaining Units” there are–and, as a result, how many collective agreements must be negotiated–is fundamental. The answer dictates almost every aspect of negotiations, from the number of Essential Services Agreements that must be filed to the tactics used in preparing and negotiating positions. It also affects a number of legal requirements (such as notification to bargain) that have been introduced into negotiations by the shift of the Post Secondary labour sector into the Labour Relations Code.
We will continue to update the membership as this application progresses. Please contact the Faculty Association if you have any questions or comments.
This post has been written in order to keep the membership of ULFA informed about the status of this important case. While it attempts to provide an accurate account of the case for a non-specialist audience, it has not been written by lawyers and is without prejudice. Any divergence in this post from the position represented in documents filed with the ALRB is accidental and does not represent the official position of the Association.