June 24th, 2024

Potential strike looms over university faculty negotiations

By Al Beeber - Lethbridge Herald on February 8, 2022.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDabeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

The University of Lethbridge Faculty Association has voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action.
Faculty voted 92 per cent for strike action, association president Dan O’Donnell told the Herald. Of faculty members, 87 per cent cast a ballot.
“That’s huge. That’s stronger than Concordia which was already a very strong strike vote,” O’Donnell said, adding that the U of L had a slightly lower participation rate.
Concordia voted 90 per cent in favour of strike action on 95 per cent participation, he said.
The vote doesn’t mean the U of L faculty is actually going to strike, though, he said. In most cases, O’Donnell said, such a vote spurs action to settle issues and recent negotiations have been positive.
Classes at the U of L will continue through at least Wednesday evening with the earliest cancellation being on Thursday morning because 72 hours notice has to be given to the university.
“It’s really wrong to think of this 72 hours as your notice to strike – that’s what it is legally – but it’s really the last-chance negotiating period or the intense negotiating period where most strikes get settled,” O’Donnell added.
“The point of being where we are at this point is in fact not to have a strike or not to have a lockout. When labour negotiations end up at the point that one side or the other is having to have a vote over a job action, the reason why that’s happening is the two sides simply haven’t been able to get to an agreement and then at that point, it often becomes time to really think through the essentials and sometimes you need the deadline of potential job action to really clarify what’s important to both sides.
“And so we’ve been telling our members most strike votes don’t result in a strike, certainly not in our sector,” O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell said faculty have invited the university to negotiate for several weeks and those discussions have started.
“Our team is ready and willing to look for really creative ways of trying to come up with a solution,” he said.
On its website, the university states “all instruction and related academic activities would be halted for the duration of a Faculty Association strike. The impacts of a Faculty Association strike on the Spring 2022 terms would be regularly evaluated and communicated to students.”
On a page about bargaining, the university adds “the University expects a prolonged strike, which could threaten our semester. The University hopes to proceed in a good-faith bargaining process that avoids strike action and leads to a fair and equitable agreement. We are concerned that recent positions taken by ULFA have been counterproductive to our ability to make progress. ULFA’s repeated demand for double-digit percentage salary increases – nearly three times greater than those already accepted by nurses and public sector workers, and after both sides had negotiated to within a one per cent salary gap – is out-of-touch with today’s economic and workplace realities. ULFA’s immediate move to strike also contradicts repeated assurances a strike mandate was for bargaining leverage, and job action was not a certainty.”
This is the first time the U of L has faced a strike lockout, O’Donnell continued, adding “they’ve known the results of this since last Thursday night because as part of filing the results with the board you have to let the other side know. …I’m pretty hopeful as the results sink in, we’ll start seeing a greater engagement with the idea of settling before there’s job action,” he said.
O’Donnell said students have been highly supportive of their professors with a recent rally attracting about a thousands.
“The students have been really great. It ranges from the graduate students union which, like us is in negotiations with the university and are active in supporting us because they’re facing the same kind of issues, to the undergraduate student union which is not in a similar kind of employee relationship. And while they’re taking a neutral stand, they’ve nevertheless signed letters of support for things like there wouldn’t be any scabbing on campus.
“But we’ve also just found the general student, who aren’t part of the student union or something, are also very connected to this,” O’Donnell said.
“We’re trying our best to keep them informed.”
On Monday, faculty was going to make the final decision about how long a period would be best for them to try to reach settlement before it might move onto the next step, O’Donnell added.
The university has filed a bad faith bargaining complaint regarding the negotiations, it said in a statement on Monday.
“ULFA’s approach has resulted in lost opportunities to make progress in negotiating a fair collective agreement and forced the University to file a Bad Faith Bargaining complaint with the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB). In response to the strike notice, the University has also applied to the ALRB for a lockout, which would formally close University workplaces to ULFA members. A lockout ensures a safe and consistent approach to managing the impacts of job action across a large institution with multiple worksites. The University respectfully encourages ULFA to present solutions that are less provocative and more compelling in future collective bargaining meetings so both parties might make progress toward a resolution that prevents work stoppage.”
On Friday, MLA for Lethbridge West Shannon Phillips and NDP Advanced Education critic David Eggen issued a joint statement about the stroke vote.
“As a major engine of our economic future, post-secondary schools in Alberta must be properly supported. The UCP has failed in supporting post-secondary schools with plans to cut $1 billion from the sector, forcing institutions to push costs onto students and hamstring staff,” said Eggen.
“This strike vote is a byproduct of the UCP’s horrible, devastating, and generational cuts to post-secondary schools across the province.
“Alberta’s NDP supports post-secondary schools and the exceptional faculty at the head of it, preparing our future leaders and leading remarkable advancements in research and technology. Support for our schools will be at the centre of our work should we form government again in 2023,” he added.
“Government must support post-secondary education as it is a major economic driver for our communities, and continued budget cuts from the UCP are hurting our economic future,” said Phillips in the statement.

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