February 11, 2022 U of A - AASUA Bargaining Update

As the U of A and AASUA prepare for mediation, we want to ensure that faculty and staff  understand how the parties have reached this stage.

11 February 2022

The University of Alberta and AASUA will begin formal mediation on February 18, 2022. As both parties prepare for this next stage of the bargaining process, we want to ensure that academic staff and others fully understand how the parties have reached this stage, where the university hopes to proceed from here and why we view mediation as critically important.

The parties started the current collective bargaining process in 2020 and have worked very hard over 35 formal sessions, with many additional informal discussions. Agreement has been reached on many items. On January 27, the university suggested that the parties enter voluntary mediation to work to resolve the remaining issues; voluntary mediation offers the benefit of third-party mediation without escalating toward a labour disruption. AASUA did not wish to do that, and instead initiated the process of mandatory mediation under the Labour Relations Code. A mediator has now been appointed by the provincial government through that process and mediation dates have been scheduled for February 18 and 25.

The mandatory mediation process is similar to voluntary mediation, with one key difference. Mandatory mediation is one of the required steps that must be taken before initiating a strike. The university recently published a Primer on Mediation with more information on the process.

As the parties enter into mediation, there is a significant gap between salary proposals (0% vs. 5.25%), and an even more significant gap between the overall compensation-related proposals.  The university has indicated to AASUA that, despite these gaps, we are embarking into mediation with a clear intention to negotiate further in this regard. Resolution of these issues should be achievable, especially in light of other recently settled agreements in Alberta's public sector.

On the non-monetary front, there have been some recent misstatements by AASUA regarding the university’s proposals that require clarity: 

  1. There are no outstanding proposals about academic freedom. (There never have been.)
  2. There are no outstanding proposals about the Universities Academic Pension Plan. (There never have been; changes to the UAPP are not made through collective bargaining.  There are certain proposed changes to the Academic Supplementary Retirement Plan, but those are fully offset by enhancements in other areas, designed to reach more members.)
  3. There are no outstanding proposals to reduce Academic Benefit Plan entitlements, or to change the current joint management process of the benefits plan.

Mediation is a critically important opportunity for the parties to settle all outstanding matters and avoid labour disruption. Although labour disruption is a possible stage of any bargaining process and the parties share the responsibility in arriving at any impasse, a decision to strike is exclusively in the control of AASUA and academic staff. The university has no ability or desire to ‘force’ any such action. We believe a strike is not in the best interests of our students, academic and other staff, and the university–and is avoidable.

Labour disruptions do not just mean that compensation stops; they mean that the rights and entitlements associated with being employed at the university cease during that period. Such an action would bring an immediate end to all teaching and research activity except for the very narrow range of activities permitted by the Essential Services Agreement (ESA). The ESA is a negotiated agreement between AASUA and the university which outlines which work can continue in the event that AASUA and its members choose to strike. 

The university remains fully committed to negotiating an agreement with AASUA that is fair, equitable, responsible and sustainable given the serious economic constraints the university faces. We enter into mediation with a deliberate goal of maximizing the process in an effort to reach a settlement. The university is taking this process seriously and will not end mediation prematurely, recognizing that doing so would further escalate the situation towards labour disruption. Settlement will require movement from both sides and a shared commitment to remain open-minded, patient and engaged. 

Reaching a settlement will provide the stability that is essential to providing a supportive and inclusive environment devoted to advanced learning, scholarship, innovation, research and discovery. We highly value this stability, which brings community wellbeing for students, staff and all community members, and sustainability of our operations and supporting environment.