NAIT accused of worker interference

According to the faculty association at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, the institution has assigned teaching responsibilities to lower paid workers, undermining faculty job security.

At the end of last month, the Alberta Labour Relations Board released their final New Applications Report for May 2023. In the report is a new application for employer interference.

The application was filed on 23 May 2023 by the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology Academic Staff Association.

This union, which only recently finished negotiating a new contract for its workers, claimed in the application that “the employer’s representations at the bargaining table were not in good faith and prevented NASA from being able to negotiate collective agreement language regarding the use of instructional assistants.”

In addition, the application alleges that the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology’s “increased use of instructional assistants will reduce the need for and displace NASA instructional staff and further erode the integrity of the bargaining unit, and thus interfere with the association’s representation of employees.“

I reached out to Trevor Zimmerman, NASA’s labour relations director, to get some more information.

According to Zimmerman, until recently, instructional assistants had the following responsibilities:

  • Provide remedial and tutorial services
  • Supervise students
  • Mark student assignments
  • Assess transfer credits
  • Organize and distribute learning materials
  • Set up and dismantle labs
  • Calibrate and repair lab equipment
  • Order supplies

However, NAIT recently started assigning teaching responsibilities to instructionals assignments, but just for technical lessons, something that was exclusively the job of NASA workers previously. NASA workers still teach theoretical lessons, however.

As part of the change, NAIT restructured instructional assistants into two new categories: instructional assistant I and instructional assistant II. It’s only workers in the second level that have received the teaching duties.

Zimmerman told me that 13 programs at NAIT either have already started using instructional assistant II workers or are in consultation to do so. These programs have 168 NASA members teaching, which represents about 15% of total NASA membership.

“Teaching is the primary role of NASA instructors, so it is alarming to see non-NASA instruction in credit courses at NAIT,” said Shauna MacDonald, the president of NASA, in an email to The Alberta Worker.

“It is undermining our members, devaluing our work, and violating our collective agreement. Instructors across the institute are deeply opposed. NASA is working to protect and preserve the teaching environment, which is not only our working environment, but also the learning environment of our students.”

This is something seen throughout postsecondary institutions, which have seen their operational grant funding slashed over the last 4 years. As a result, they’ve had to find ways to reduce spending.

One common way is to use workers in non-faculty positions to teach classes. They pay these workers less, and often provide them with temporary contracts, with few—if any—benefits.

And while the instructional assistants aren’t temporary workers (they’re unionized with AUPE), their lower wages are being exploited by the institution to save themselves money.

The instructional assistants have increased workloads with minimal increases in pay, and the faculty find their careers to be more precarious.

For example, in their most recent collective agreement, all AUPE workers at NAIT, including instructional assistants, received 3 years of wage freezes, followed by increases of 1.25% earlier this year and 1.5% later this year.

As well, the top biweekly wage for NASA workers as of April 2023 was $4,284.36, whereas the top biweekly wage for instructional assistant II workers is $3,012.40.

Since the ALRB doesn’t archive their new application reports, here’s a copy of the one that contains NASA’s application.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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