Dear Members,

Late this afternoon, I responded to the Board’s “Settlement Offer” communicated to me by email with an accompanying phone call at about 4pm MST on November 25, 2021.

The manner in which the Employer communicated this Offer to AASUA members was illegal (read more about the AASUA’s filed complaint with the Alberta Labour Relations Board against the U of A regarding its Nov 26 post here) under the Labour Relations Code. Further, in the context of the long history of collective bargaining between AASUA and the Board and the principles that were agreed to, normally, the Board and AASUA would present offers and counter-offers to each other at a formal joint bargaining session. The decided advantage of this historical and agreed upon practice is that it allows not only the opportunity for both complete Teams to hear “first-hand” the proposer Team’s rationale for the Offer, but equally important, allows the receiver Team the opportunity to ask, in a full joint bargaining session, initial clarification questions that would undoubtably better inform the receiver Team’s official response, proposal, and/or counter offer. It is our view that the best possible approach to reach an agreement is if we follow the historical and agreed upon collective bargaining practice of making proposals and counter proposals in our joint bargaining sessions where the full spectrum of motivations, concerns and objections are heard first-hand by both complete Teams. 

AASUA is also unable to understand the need for the Employer’s imposed December 6, 2021 deadline, a scant 7 working days after the Offer was emailed to me, for its response. Plainly, there is nothing in the Board’s “Settlement Offer” that warrants such expedited urgency. This point of view is particularly underscored by the mutually agreed “go slow” approach that both parties adopted throughout the Fall Term. Should it have been necessary to suddenly abandon this mutually agreed “go slow” approach in the twilight of the 2021 Fall Term, this new mode of operating should have been mutually agreed to before the Board made this Offer.

With respect to the specifics of the “Settlement Offer” made by the Board, allow me to very briefly make the following observations:

1.     AASUA has an interest of preserving the “agreed upon” language revisions to the Collective Agreement, within the context that “nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to.” However, AASUA is not, at this time, prepared to abandon our other language proposals. The Employer’s Team was advised at the joint bargaining session on November 10, 2021, that our team is finalizing our list of outstanding language proposals.

2.     AASUA Bargaining Team’s opening proposal is to seek a 2-year Collective Agreement expiring June 30, 2022. AASUA will be making its counter proposal to the Employer’s proposal for a 4-year Collective Agreement expiring on June 30, 2024 which will be presented at the next joint bargaining session. 

3.     AASUA acknowledges that the Employer’s offer has backed away from its initial -3% salary (and salary grid) rollback and its furlough day proposal. However, a 0% ATB in each year of the Employer’s proposed 4-year Collective Agreement will significantly and negatively impact the objective of having competitive academic salaries compared to our U15 comparable group. Since 2015, average faculty salaries at the University of Alberta have fallen from the benchmark of being in the top 25th percentile to the lower bottom 50th percentile in the U15.

4.     As the Employer has stated many, many times, the only proper forum to discuss the material compensation/funding aspects associated with the Academic Benefits Plan is through formal collective bargaining. It cannot be left to ABMC. The Employer’s offer, although not explicitly stated, implicitly implies that the per-capita funding of the Academic Benefits Plan would be frozen at levels even lower than that agreed to in the last Collective Agreement. Such a proposal will lead to the inevitable bankrupting of the Academic Benefits Plan in just a few short years, which in turn would require either radical benefit reductions or the introduction of co-pay and co-premiums. AASUA’s  Bargaining Team has the mandate to ensure that that Academic Benefits Plan is sustainably funded so that it is viable into the future.

5.     Because of the deferred nature of faculty salaries over the course a professorial career at almost every U15 university, the Employer’s suggestion that the growth in faculty salaries at the University of Alberta should be slowed over the course of a faculty member’s career is wholly inconsistent with the Employer’s objective of having average faculty salaries at the University of Alberta competitive with our U15 comparative group. Given that average faculty salaries at the University of Alberta are no longer competitive with our U15 comparator group we need to accelerate salary growth in the short to intermediate term and not slow it down.

6.     AASUA rejects the, in our opinion, transparent and clumsy attempt to “divide and conquer” the AASUA membership by singling out ATS for salary grid reductions. It is disappointing to say the least that the Board has chosen to explicitly single out some of the most precariously employed Members for this attack on their salary grid. Moreover, in our opinion, it says a lot about the Employer’s real commitment to the learning experience offered at the University of Alberta, that in consideration of points 5 and 6, it is precisely the two AASUA constituencies, faculty and ATS, who do the vast majority of the front-line in-class teaching, that are being singled out for compensation reductions.

For these and other reasons AASUA rejected the Board’s Settlement Offer dated November 25, 2021. AASUA has requested that the parties now organize a sequence of joint bargaining sessions to begin in early January 2022 so that AASUA can present its compensation proposals and the rationale for them.

Gordon Swaters

AASUA Lead Negotiator