June 14th, 2024

U of L strike ends, faculty and students back to class

By Lethbridge Herald on March 23, 2022.

Herald file photo by Al Beeber Enthusiastic faculty supporters wave to drivers passing by University of Lethbridge Faculty Association picketers near the U of L during a rally earlier in the strike.

Al Beeber – Lethbridge Herald

University of Lethbridge students are returning to classes today after the end of a strike by faculty.

On Monday, a new collective bargaining agreement was supported by 91 per cent of faculty who voted on it. Of faculty, 92 per cent cast ballots.

The faculty association’s vote came two days after the U of L Board of Governors voted to ratify the agreement which was reached on Friday after enhanced mediation. That mediation started last Tuesday.

Faculty members returned to work on Tuesday with all academic activities beginning today.

A process of addressing an amended academic schedule has begun, according to a Monday post by the U of L.

The university says “the agreement promises labour stability for the foreseeable future and addresses significant areas of concern ULFA brought forward during mediation last week. It reflects recommendations made in the mediator’s report.

“The new collective agreement also protects the university’s ability to maintain equitable access to affordable, high-quality education which is fundamental to our future and the futures of our faculty, employees and students,” the U of L said in its statement.

“The university recognizes the last several weeks have been challenging, especially for students. It is committed to rebuilding its relationship with faculty and making immediate adjustments to protect our students’ interests over the next few weeks,” the statement added.

The strike, which started on Feb. 10, lasted 40 days and saw picketing along University Drive West and downtown. Several rallies were staged including one at City Hall Friday which drew a huge crowd to listen to several speakers including two Edmonton MPs and MLA for Lethbridge West Shannon Phillips.

Despite its length, the strike fell far short of the longest in Canadian history. That one in 2018 at York University in Ontario lasted 142 days. The previous record was 108 days at Laval University in Quebec.

ULFA president Dan O’Donnell said Monday night he was pleased faculty showed the strong solidarity that they did during the strike, citing Friday’s strong turnout for the City Hall rally as a surprise to everyone.

“We’re academics, we’re not used to gathering in herds and I think it took everybody by surprise to realize just how much we could do working together,” O’Donnell said.

He wasn’t, however, as happy with the fact the two sides didn’t talk for five weeks before coming to an agreement after a few days of mediation.

He said he’s happy with the agreement but not the money part.

“We ended up basically where we said we wanted to be” somewhere between U of A and Mount Royal in terms of where ULFA settled, he said.

“What we did discover was it became very clear in the last couple of days that the provincial interference in the bargaining is profound and extremely detailed to the point of individual changes to individual job categories. Instructors are allowed something, professors are not…so a really, really micromanaging agreement and mandate.

“That essentially makes collective bargaining impossible in any kind of fair way but beyond that, things that we should have been discussing over the last two years, when we finally sat down and discussed them,” an agreement was quickly made, he suggested.

“It’s absolutely nuts that we spent two years waiting to discuss things that we were able to clean up in four days of negotiating,” O’Donnell said.

He said the faculty was told by the U of L board of governors the strike would be a long one if they walked off the job.

“I was told by somebody just yesterday or Friday that this was a fairly classic attempt at strike breaking or union breaking. Basically this was a four-day strike preceded by a five-week lockout and that’s incredibly unusual behaviour,” he added.

He said the 91 per cent approval of ratification can be seen as a show of support for the agreement and the work ULFA negotiators did on behalf of faculty.

“We explained to people what you’re saying is you don’t believe the negotiating team could get anything more if we stayed on strike. So you’re really endorsing the negotiating team’s decision that this is the best we can do, O’Donnell said.

He said the fact 92 per cent of faculty approved the strike vote on a mandate that two years ago was approved with a 94 per cent vote shows consistency among ULFA members.

“Our members have been completely consistent. Nine out of 10 members have said the university’s on the wrong path and we’ve got to do something about it.”

“The board of governors did not respond to that 92 per cent strike vote to say let’s think about where we’re going and is this really how we want the University of Lethbridge to be seen internationally.”

O’Donnell says he hopes the board of governors will see “that we’re on the wrong path and the only people who can change this are the people who are supposed to be in charge of the university, which is the board of governors.”

He said it was clear the province was involved in the bargaining process. The BoG had to call up someone in the province and ask if it was OK for them to agree to certain financial terms in various places, he said.

“Our people would sit waiting while they called somebody at the province to ask if they give librarians a quarter per cent raise,” he said.

“You’d think a provincial government would have other things to do with their time.”

He said every other university in the province settled without “putting students out of class and none of them had to go for six weeks.”

He attributes that to other administrators finding a way to compromise in some areas.

“It does not seem like a good stewardship of a public university in what we’ve seen in the last six weeks. If we had talked the way we did this past week, six weeks ago we wouldn’t have had a strike,” O’Donnell said.

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