Nearly three months ago, I reported that the University of Lethbridge board of governors had filed for mediation after being unable to come to an agreement with the University of Lethbridge Faculty Association after 15 sessions of collective bargaining.
Yesterday, the ULFA updated their website that mediation ended this week.
The ULFA negotiating team apparently asked the mediator to write a report on the current state of negotiations. In his letter, he refused to issue a recommendation on terms of settlement for the board of governors and ULFA to either accept or reject because he concluded that the two parties were too far apart on their proposals.
According to the ULFA update, the fact that mediation failed to result in a constructive outcome means that strike vote may be imminent; although this vote wouldn’t happen until a 2-week cooling off period occurs, which began yesterday.
ULFA plans to hold several townhalls in the meantime to discuss where collective bargaining presently sits, including current areas of impasse. The first townhall will be restricted to faculty and will be held this afternoon. The next one will be on Friday.
The ULFA update reported that they had met with the board 9 times since the board called for a mediator. The board had made some concessions on a few issues, such as the following four opening positions they had original come forward with:
- Subordinate academic freedom to business needs of the university
- Retroactive -4% salary roll back
- Reduce barriers to invoking layoff provisions of financial emergency language
- Restrict ULFA accompaniment
ULFA claimed that some of them were the worst proposals the academic sector has seen generally, not just at the U of L.
However, the board of governors, according to ULFA, refused to concede on the following 5 core issues:
- Address salary erosion relative to agreed-upon comparator institutions
- Address deficiencies in benefits relative to agreed-upon comparator institutions, including through transparent, joint stewardship of contributions
- Ensure equitable workloads and job security
- Improve collegial governance
- Improve working conditions for sessional lecture and term appointees
According to an update on the U of L website, the board of governors apparently offered ULFA 1.25% increase next April and a 1.5% increase next December. But that means no increase this year, and no retroactive increase for last year. That’s an average of 0.69% per year for the entire 4-year term of this contract.
Remember, ULFA has been without a contract since 2020. And their pay was already 10–15% lower than faculty members at comparator institutions, and it was the only faculty association in Alberta to take a 1% wage cut the last time universities faced financial trouble.
Oh, and the board also threw in an extra half a percent in February 2024, but that depends on what the Alberta economy looks like 2 years from now.
If ULFA moves forward with a strike vote, they will request such a vote from the Alberta Relations Board and that it be supervised. Should a majority of ULFA members vote in favour of striking, they could strike as soon as 72 hours later.
A positive strike vote wouldn’t necessarily automatically lead to a strike immediately. The negotiating committee could postpone a potential strike briefly to use it as final bargaining leverage.
The potential of a strike vote comes on the heels of the recent job action by the Concordia University of Edmonton Faculty Association. The CUEFA reached a tentative bargaining agreement with their university after striking for less than 2 weeks.
If ULFA does end up striking, it will be only the second time a faculty association in Alberta has ever done so.