In our March bargaining update, we informed you that the tone of bargaining was beginning to shift as the employer was beginning to dig in their heels more aggressively on a number of issues. The AASUA and Board negotiating teams have met on four separate occasions since then, and this trend has continued. At a joint bargaining session on April 16 the employer went as far as to assert that they did not agree with the premise that because they are seeking concessions on compensation and benefits they should concede on language. The fact that the employer continues to push for concessions on conditions of employment as well as financial concessions flies in the face of typical bargaining practice, where employers recognize that without significant gains in language and conditions, members are not likely to accept wage freezes or rollbacks.
Our bargaining sessions in the last month have focused primarily on the following seven articles:
- Common Article 13 (Health & Safety);
- Article A2 (University Responsibilities);
- Article A6 (Faculty Evaluation);
- Article A7 (Unacceptable Academic Performance);
- Article A8 (General Appeals);
- Article A10 (Academic Reorganization); and
- Article A11 (Financial Emergency).
Of these seven, the only one we have reached full agreement on is Article 13, where we have added language specifying the rights and obligations of the employer and of staff members regarding health and safety, harassment, and violence. On the other six articles we have reached what is referred to as impasse, meaning that unless one side or the other amends their proposal or offers a new counter, there is no general agreement on that article and no further negotiation of its provisions.
Further details on the contentious issues in each of those articles is provided below. For reference, the existing collective agreement is available here and on our website, and each side’s opening proposals are available at the bottom of the bargaining page on our website. Also, a reminder that our standard bargaining practice is to begin by bargaining language in the Faculty schedule of the agreement, and then applying that language, as applicable, to other constituencies.
On Article A2 (University Responsibilities) there are two key points of contention. The first is the employer’s proposal to amend A2.02.1 in order to allow a Department Chair to assign Academic Faculty member teaching responsibilities in any academic term (ie. spring, summer, fall, or winter terms), adding that members would not normally be assigned to teach in more than two academic terms in a given year unless they agree. The employer says this would require the member’s agreement, but they also propose keeping the current language that gives the Dean final authority to assign teaching if there is no agreement. The AASUA team rejects this proposal outright, as we prefer the existing language where members wanting to teach intersession have the ability to do so, but can’t be required to do so.
The second sticking point is that the AASUA has proposed an amendment to A2.06, which would allow the AASUA to grieve unresolved issues regarding the member’s University responsibilities, as opposed to the current language which gives the Dean final say on assignment of responsibilities. The employer has rejected this proposal entirely.
On Article A6 (Faculty Evaluation), we did make some progress on how student questionnaires are used, but there are a number of areas where no agreement has been possible. Here, AASUA has fully rejected the employer’s proposal to remove the right of members to appeal awards of less than 1.0 (except for 0d’s), and the employer’s proposal to fully eliminate contested cases before FEC. The employer, for their part, has rejected our proposal for opting out of the full annual FEC review process (and by extension LEC and ATSEC) and receiving an automatic 1.0 increment. The employer would only consider it if the non-adjudicated award could be zero instead of the normal 1.0, and the merit increment pool reduced, which was entirely unacceptable to AASUA.
On Article A7 (Unacceptable Academic Performance), AASUA has proposed the introduction of a detailed Performance Improvement Plan for any member whose performance has been cited as unsatisfactory and unacceptable twice in a three year period. This Performance Improvement Plan would require AASUA representation of the member and kick in after the second citation, but before the Provost can take any disciplinary measure or recommend termination. The employer presented a counter that would give them the ability to unilaterally initiate the Performance Improvement Process for any member, at any time, and independent of the existing annual evaluation process. AASUA rejected the employer’s counter and maintained our initial proposal on the table, leading to impasse on this article.
On Article A8 (General Appeals), we have cleaned up some of the language to clarify the order of hearings at the General Appeals Committee. As with Article A6, however, we have reached impasse because of the employer’s insistence that, with regard to incrementation awards only a recommendation of zero should be appealable, rather than the current language which makes any merit incrementation less than 1.0 appealable.
On Article A10 (Academic Reorganization), we have reached agreement on almost all aspects except for article A10.35 which specifies how severance is to be calculated for a laid off Academic Faculty member. Existing calculations for severance in case of layoff (Article A10.35) begin at 18.65 months (155% of annual salary) and are then reduced based on the notice period in the case of layoff. For the Voluntary Severance Incentive Program (article A11.08) severance begins at 165% of annual salary and is then reduced based on the age of the member. The AASUA has proposed a new formula whereby the severance calculation for a Faculty member being laid off or accessing the VSIP would begin at 165% of their annual salary, but would grow by an additional month of salary for each year of employment at the University that exceeds 20 years of service. The AASUA considers it as more fair in that it doesn’t reduce severance based on the length of notice or the age of the member, and it recognizes and rewards long service. AASUA believes that the purpose of severance is not only to compensate a member for loss of their tenured academic position, but that it ought to provide sufficient funds to Faculty members while they search for alternative employment opportunities in their discipline. The employer’s team has rejected the AASUA proposal.
On Article A11 (Financial Emergency), the employer has made two proposals that the AASUA team finds entirely unacceptable. First, they are proposing fundamentally changing the definition of a Financial Emergency. Currently a Financial Emergency is defined as “a condition in which the continued existence of the U of A is placed in jeopardy by a deficit which has occurred or is predicted and projections show continuing deficits.” They are proposing defining a Financial Emergency as a condition where there has simply been “a reduction (or projected reduction) of operating revenues by 10% or more in a given year.” To be clear, under the employer’s proposed new definition the Board would have been able to declare a Financial Emergency two years ago and begin rolling back salaries and laying off Faculty.
The AASUA team has also unequivocally rejected the employer’s proposal to bypass the creation of a joint Presidential and AASUA commission to study all relevant financial documentation and assess the University’s financial situation, and their proposal to give the President the authority to implement across-the-board salary reductions before the Board declares an actual Financial Emergency.
We have four joint bargaining sessions scheduled before the end of May, at which we will present language proposals for key articles respecting the ATS, TLAPO, and TRAS constituencies, as well as any remaining APO articles. The employer has expressed an interest in wrapping up negotiations by the end of May, but we do not feel we would be able to do justice to our proposals on behalf of all seven of our constituencies if we were to agree to that. It is important to point out that we still have the entire suite of compensation and benefit-related issues to negotiate, which we have agreed with the Board’s team that we will only do once we have completed bargaining on non-monetary matters.
We will also be continuing negotiations for an Essential Services Agreement (ESA), which is the agreement that determines which AASUA members are considered essential under the Labour Code, and as such would continue working in the case of any labour disruption. An ESA must be filed with the Alberta Labour Relations Board before any overall impasse can be declared in bargaining and any steps toward formal mediation, a forced ratification vote (whereby the employer can bypass the negotiations team and place an offer directly to our members for a vote), lock-out, or strike can take place. (We will provide further details on all of these formal steps in future updates.)
Ricardo (on behalf of Executive and the Negotiations Team)