Collective Bargaining Frequently Asked Questions

Updated: Mar. 7, 2024

What is the collective bargaining process? How are agreements reached?
What does it mean to be a unionized employee?

Most U of A employees are represented by one of the four unions listed below. The union negotiates the terms and conditions applicable to the employment of its members through collective bargaining negotiations with the university.

What does the negotiations process look like?
Negotiations are one step of the bargaining process. After both parties exchange opening proposals, teams representing the U of A and the bargaining agent meet regularly in a series of negotiation sessions. The bargaining teams meet in good faith and make every reasonable effort to reach a renewed collective agreement. If an impasse arises which can not be resolved in negotiations, there are several methods for resolving disputes. Read more on the bargaining process and how agreements are reached.
What happens if the current collective agreement expires before a renewal agreement is reached?
During negotiations, university activities, including learning, research, teaching and other work continue as usual. It is common for negotiations to continue beyond the expiry date of a collective agreement as the representative bargaining teams work together towards a renewal agreement. At the U of A, the expired collective agreement terms continue to apply as long as work continues.
Will I lose access to my university email account or CCID during the negotiations process?

As with all employee entitlements, resources and accesses, employee university Gmail accounts and CCIDs continue as usual during negotiations as long as work continues. Employee entitlements would only be suspended if work stops due to a labour disruption (strike or lockout) involving their union.

Student university Gmail accounts and student CCIDs are not impacted by the negotiations process.

What is an impasse and how can it be resolved?

An impasse in collective bargaining is reached when one or both bargaining parties decide no further progress is possible through negotiation discussions.

Upon reaching an impasse, there are a number of dispute resolution methods the parties can access, such as mediation. Ultimately, an impasse can lead to a work stoppage, following several mandated steps as set out in the Alberta Labour Relations Code, the legislation that governs collective bargaining and strike/lockout processes.

What is the difference between a strike and a lockout?

When the parties are unable to reach agreement on a collective agreement, the union sometimes chooses to strike. A strike must be preceded by a vote of employees in the bargaining unit resulting in a majority in favour of those who vote. In essence, a strike involves the cessation of work of two or more employees for the purpose of compelling their employer to agree to terms or conditions of employment. Employees are unpaid for the duration of any strike.

Similarly, employers may choose to lock out their employees. In essence, a lockout involves the employer’s suspension of work by employees for the purpose of compelling employees to agree to terms of conditions of employment. Employees are unpaid for the duration of any lockout.

For more information: Alberta Labour Relations Board: Strike & Lockout FAQ

What are essential services?
Provincial legislation describes essential services as those that if interrupted would endanger the life, personal safety or health of the public, or that are necessary to maintain and administer the rule of law and public security. The parties to an essential services agreement may also agree to a broader definition or to particular positions deemed essential.
What is an essential services agreement?

Most unions have the right to strike and most employers have the right to lock out. Prior to those events occurring, employers and unions generally must go through a number of required steps as set out in the Alberta Labour Relations Code, the legislation that governs collective bargaining, and strike/lockout processes. One of those steps is to negotiate an essential services agreement.

At any time during collective bargaining, either party may give the other written notice of the desire to identify or negotiate essential services that would continue to be performed in the event of a work stoppage. Their agreements must identify:

  • a list of the essential services for their particular organization
  • job classifications and number of employees affected
  • procedures for assigning essential service duties
  • procedures for responding to emergencies and any foreseeable changes to essential services
  • changes to terms and conditions of employment that apply during a work stoppage (if any)
  • mediators to resolve disputes during a work stoppage