Dear Members,

I would like to provide a Bargaining update. What follows is perhaps a more coherent repeat of the remarks I made at the Bargaining Town Hall on Wednesday, October 13, 2021 with some additional comments.

The last joint bargaining meeting between the AASUA Bargaining Team and the Employer was held on Friday October 1, 2021, which lasted approximately two hours. During this meeting we reviewed the revised or new collective agreement language we have been able to come to agreement on. As this list is rather long and spans many items ranging from correcting simple typographical errors or omissions in the existing collective agreement to more substantively revised or completely new Articles, and as these have been reported in previous Bargaining updates, I won’t list them here again.  These previous Bargaining Bulletins can be found on the AASUA website for those Members who want to look them over. However, it is important to point out that AASUA bargains from the well-established union doctrine that “nothing is agreed to unless everything is agreed to.” This means that tentative agreement on revised or new articles in the collective agreement does not imply formal agreement to these articles irrespective of the outcome of bargaining on all other matters – such as compensation or monetary issues or, as yet, unresolved contract language proposals.

Specifically, and because it was brought up at the Bargaining Town Hall, I want to assure Members that the AASUA Bargaining Team has completely rejected and will continue to reject outright the Employer’s language proposals on Financial Emergency and Academic Reorganization.

AASUA’s Bargaining Team and the Employer have one remaining joint bargaining meeting scheduled for Fall Term 2021, which will occur on Wednesday, November 10, 2021. During this meeting we will continue our joint review of “agreed” revised and new collective agreement language in order to make sure that there are no “misunderstandings” or “misinterpretations” of what the revised or new language actually implies. AASUA also hopes to make progress on an “Essential Services Agreement,” required by the Labour Relations Code should further steps be required by AASUA to secure an acceptable collective agreement in the event that an agreement cannot be achieved at the formal bargaining table. AASUA also intends to negotiate a “Strike Protocol Agreement” with the Employer.

The AASUA Bargaining Team has presented to the Employer all of the “language” proposals given to us in the bargaining mandate, and the Employer has presented to AASUA all of their “language” proposals. All of these language proposals have now been extensively bargained back and forth and where tentative agreement has not been possible to achieve, both sides have agreed to put these disagreements to the side for now and revisit them down the road or potentially withdraw them from this round of bargaining. These determinations will be made as we progress further down the bargaining road. Effectively what this means is that the most immediate bargaining priority shifts to negotiating “compensation.” By compensation we mean monetary items including:

  • across-the-board (ATB) increases to salaries, salary floors and ceilings, other salary threshold points, and the value of merit increments,
  • the appealability or non-appealability of certain increment awards,
  • determining the size of the merit increment “pool” for each applicable constituency,
  • ensuring that the merit increment pools are “fully” paid out annually,
  • determining the number of steps in each salary grid for Members who are subject to a capped salary grid,
  • ensuring that a Gender-pay equity analysis and remedy is applied to all other AASUA constituency groups other than Faculty,
  • determining the percentage of base salary paid to Members who are on Sabbatical and other Professional Leaves,
  • determining the per-capita funding of the Academic Benefits Plan,
  • determining the compensation in lieu of participation in the Academic Benefits Plan for those applicable Members,
  • determining the maximum pensionable salary associated with the Academic Supplementary Pension Plan (ASRP), and
  • constraining the size of the pool of funds available to the Employer for Market supplements.

Speaking very frankly now, based on the Employer’s opening proposal, the AASUA Bargaining Team’s conversation with the Employer on compensation is likely to be a very short one indeed since, being as diplomatic as I can, there is a very, very wide gulf between the modest, fair and reasonable compensation proposals AASUA is advancing and the draconian compensation cuts the Employer is advancing. As I like to say metaphorically, if collective bargaining is an LRT ride, and if it is inevitable, notwithstanding AASUA’s good-faith agreement-seeking intentions, we have to de-train at the station called “impasse,” it is best that we do things in a way that maximizes our chances of success for getting an acceptable collective agreement once we get off the train.

I want to doubly emphasize that “impasse” does not necessarily or immediately result in a strike or a lockout. Impasse is a technical term that means that the two parties have been unable to come to a negotiated agreement for a new collective agreement. The Labour Relations Code then governs next steps. Impasse necessarily requires a subsequent period of mediation, and before any job action could even be contemplated, many steps have to be taken including having an Essential Services Agreement in place, preferably a Strike Protocol Agreement in place, and, very importantly, a Membership vote, supervised by the Alberta Labour Relations Board, on whether or not to give a strike mandate to AASUA. But prudence requires AASUA to anticipate and prepare for any and all outcomes all the while assiduously working in good faith for a negotiated settlement at the bargaining table. To that end, AASUA’s Job Action Committee, led by Rick Brick (Associate Executive Professor, Department of Strategy, Entrepreneurship and Management, Alberta School of Business), has been very active in creating the organizational infrastructure needed irrespective of any eventuality. I encourage all Members who are able to reach out to the Job Action Committee and volunteer. Please don’t hesitate to contact Rick at his email here if you would like to help. No offer to help is too small. I respectfully suggest that making it perfectly and unambiguously clear to the Employer our collective resolve creates the best possible conditions for a thoughtful and fair negotiated settlement at the bargaining table.

As it stands, collective bargaining between AASUA and our Employer is ahead of some of our sister academic unions in Alberta. Whether by design or happenstance, some of our sister unions have not even been presented their Employer’s compensation proposals nor complete contract language proposals.  Others have presented their compensation proposals and one association has moved to formal mediation. AASUA is in constant communication with our sister faculty associations in the province. We are of the view that we would undoubtably have maximum leverage if we supported our sister unions and each other in the province, if job action becomes necessary. Notwithstanding that the University of Alberta seems to have been singled out for uniquely savage budget cuts, the assault on publicly-funded post-secondary education is province wide. We are not alone in this struggle and we should, where we can, build bridges with others who share our objectives in protecting and advancing the cause of having a world-class publicly-funded research and teaching-intensive university in Alberta accessible to all Albertans who have the desire and academic ability to attend. As the recent mediated settlement with AUPE has shown, labour relations in the broader public sector is in a state of flux and it may be to our tactical advantage to not get too far ahead of other public sector unions.

I will try to give you a very high-level overview of the compensation proposals of the Employer. Simply put, however, there is no aspect of Member compensation that the Employer does not want to significantly rollback:   

  • The Employer proposes a 4-year deal starting with a 3% permanent salary cut retroactive to February 1, 2021 (and applicable to all salary grids and merit increments) followed by 3 years of 0% across-the-board (ATB) increases. 
  • On top of the 3% salary cut and the 3 further years of 0% ATB, the Employer has thought appropriate to propose that the ATS salary grid suffer additional deep cuts. It seems to us that the Employer thinks that our ATS Members are overpaid.
  • In addition, the Employer wants the right to introduce up to 10 furlough days per year in each year of their proposed 4-year contract for all Members, which corresponds to approximately another 3.8% cut in annual compensation on top of the 3% permanent wage rollback described above.
  • The Employer’s proposals also radically restructure the Academic Benefits Plan introducing co-premiums and co-pay and capping some benefit payouts. The Employer has said that they want to reduce the “costs” associated with the Benefit Plan by no less than $5M annually, which corresponds to more than a 10% permanent cut in the Benefits Plan. The Employer’s proposal will have an immediate direct material impact on the health and wellness of many of our Members and their families.
  • The Employer also proposes to completely disband the collegial Academic Benefits Management Committee (ABMC), which provides co-management of the Benefits Plan, and take over unilateral management of the Benefits Plan without the direct responsible formal participation of AASUA. It seems to us that the Employer takes the antiquated view that compensation paid in the form of Benefits is not really the Members’ money and is the Employer’s to do with as they see fit. Compared to our peer universities in the U15, ABMC represents a unique co-governance structure for Employer-Employee co-management of a benefits plan. It is more than disturbing to see our Employer proposing to abandon co-management in a supposedly collegially governed institution and workplace.
  • In sharp contrast to our peer group in the U15, the Employer wants to radically reform the merit increment system resulting in effectively capitating Professorial salaries at levels far, far too low for us to remain competitive nationally let alone internationally. Unfortunately, it seems to us that the Employer is not really interested in aspiring to build the University of Alberta into the world-class research and teaching institution its public relations spin asserts. It appears to us that our Employer’s strategic goal is that the UofA devolves into the “Community College of Greater Edmonton.”
  • Again, in sharp contrast to our peer group in the U15, the Employer has also proposed to dissolve the Academic Supplementary Retirement Plan (ASRP), which provides modest pension entitlement for salary earned in excess of the maximum pensionable salary associated with the Universities’ Academic Pension Plan (UAPP) up to a negotiated limit, all the while continuing a generous supplementary pension plan for out-of-scope management and professional staff. This is notwithstanding that the ASRP has been fully paid for already and is on track to actually cost less than the original cost projections for the foreseeable future.

By comparison, the AASUA Bargaining Team has put forward entirely reasonable and moderate compensation proposals even within the current financial context:

  • AASUA has proposed a 2-year contract from July 1, 2020 ending June 30, 2022, with a 3% ATB increase effective July 1, 2020 and another 3% ATB increase effective July 1, 2021. This ask is not only far, far less than what is required to maintain comparable average faculty salaries with our U15 peer group, it is not even commensurate with inflation. Over the last 20 years at least, academic wage bargaining at the UofA has been guided by the principle that, in line with our U15 standing in Canada, average faculty salaries at the University of Alberta should be in the top 25th percentile of the U15. Currently, average faculty salaries at the UofA are roughly about number 8, or in the lower 50th percentile, in the U15. Based on Statistics Canada faculty salary data, if we were to be in the top 25th percentile of the U15, average faculty salaries at the UofA would have had to increase approximately 12% effective July 1, 2020. On average, that gap increases by about 2% annually each year that we do not get an ATB increase. Thus, for average faculty salaries at the UofA to be in the top 25th percentile in the U15, we would need approximately a 16% ATB increase effective July 1, 2022, assuming a 0% ATB on July 1, 2020 and again on July 1, 2021. It is long standing AASUA policy that notwithstanding that our ATB demand is determined based on comparing average faculty salaries in the U15, the resulting negotiated ATB increase must be applied to all Members’ salaries irrespective of their constituency. My main point here is to tell you that the position of AASUA to ask for a modest 3% ATB increase in each year of a two-year deal is a real and genuine acknowledgment of the present financial circumstances. It does not materially advance our compensation position within the U15 toward the top 25th percentile and, at best, marginally maintains Members’ present purchasing power.  Not only is AASUA’s ATB proposal a perfectly reasonable and modest wage demand, it is entirely consistent with, for example, the recently mediated settlement between the Provincial Government and the AUPE, pending ratification by its members, which will see an ATB increase for the members in the Government Services unit in the AUPE in the 2.75-3.25% range in 2023. It is also highly likely that Alberta Nurses, now in mediation, and other public sector unions in Alberta will settle for no less than the AUPE settlement.
  • AASUA is also proposing that, having negotiated a Gender-based remedy for the gender-based salary inequity found for female faculty in our previous round of bargaining, the Employer now undertake a similar process for the female Members of the other AASUA constituencies.
  • With respect to the Academic Benefits Plan, AASUA is proposing to increase the per capita funding of the benefit plan by 4% because of generally inflationary increases. This proposal amounts to maintaining the status quo.
  • In addition, because many Members have expressed dislike for the list of psychologists in the EFAP program within our Benefits Plan, AASUA has proposed to expand the provision of psychological services in the Benefits Plan to allow for choice.
  • For those Members who are ineligible for participation in the Academic Benefits Plan, AASUA is proposing that compensation in lieu be set at 10% of salary, which would be a significant increase over the existing 3% provision.
  • With respect to merit increments, AASUA is proposing to maintain the status quo on the size of the merit increment pools. AASUA is also proposing to maintain the existing language on allowed merit increments, the current appealability provisions associated with being awarded less than 1.0 Increment, and the current language ensuring the full payout of the merit pools on an annual basis.
  • AASUA is also proposing to increase the salary grids by 2 steps in each of the two years of our proposed two-year agreement for all capped salary grids thereby increasing the salary maximums by 4 steps for all capped salary grids over our proposed two-year deal.
  • Because AASUA has learned that the Employer has incorrectly implemented the so-called “promotion transition zones” in the FSO and Faculty salary grids (and which the Employer has corrected for existing Members), and because these transition zones were never meant to be permanent, AASUA is proposing a 4-year transition process to eliminate them while ensuring that as the transition steps are gradually eliminated effected Members’ salaries rise as well.
  • With respect to Sabbaticals for Academic Faculty and Professional Leave for other Members, AASUA is proposing that they be paid at 100% of base salary.
  • With respect to the maximum pensionable salary under the ASRP, AASUA is proposing that it increase annually at exactly the same percentage increase as the annual increase to the maximum pensionable salary under the UAPP. Because of the way that the ASRP is structured, this is a zero-cost increase, i.e., a status quo, proposal.
  • AASUA is proposing that the Employer establish a “Remote Learning/Professional Activity Expense Reimbursement” fund to reimburse additional and unexpected employment expenses Members have had to pay out of their own pocket in order to do their professional duties remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • AASUA is also proposing that the Employer materially acknowledge the exceptional professionalism and achievement of Academic Staff in the successful and unprecedented rapid transition to remote learning in Winter Term 2020, as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, through the payment of a one-time “cash bonus” to all those Academic Staff Members, who were either teaching undergraduate or graduate courses, seminars or laboratories, or providing direct administrative or technological support to these activities during March 2020.

Your AASUA Bargaining Team is keenly aware that some Members may be concerned that these compensation proposals, as modest as they are, nevertheless put the University in a difficult financial position given the apparent circumstances. They do not. The annual Financial Statements published by the administration continue to show multi-million dollar annual and accumulated surpluses. As one former Provost put it to me the issue is not “ability to pay,” it is “unwillingness to pay.” Besides, in public sector bargaining, the “ability to pay” argument is not considered relevant in that the government may raise the required taxes to fairly and competitively compensate those that provide the public services.

Regardless, some may still suggest that AASUA should “take a hit for the team” so to speak. I understand the impulse to do so. That proposition would be fine if in exchange for taking “one for the team” this time, the Employer would commit to moving expeditiously when times are “better” to compensation comparability with our U15 peer group. Indeed, there was a time when compensation bargaining at the UofA operated with this commitment from the Board. From about the mid 2000s to the mid 2010s, compensation bargaining between AASUA and the Board occurred within the explicit jointly-held covenant that average faculty salaries at the UofA should be in the top 25th percentile of the (then) U10 group. Although it took a couple of contract cycles to get there, from about 2010 until 2015 average faculty salaries at the UofA were in the top 25th percentile. Unfortunately, from about 2015 onward the Board has chosen to no longer honour this previously agreed to covenant when bargaining compensation with AASUA, notwithstanding their public grandstanding about the top 4 or 5 academic reputation of the UofA in Canada, which, I delight in reminding them, that it was the Members of AASUA that are most principally and singularly responsible for having created. In the absence of a jointly held commitment to reach appropriate comparable compensation in the U15, the only responsible position for AASUA to take in bargaining compensation is to demand immediate compensation comparability without delay. There can be no “taking one for the team,” since the requisite quid pro quo is not forthcoming. And certainly, there is no motivation for AASUA to accept a nickel less than the settlements that other public sector unions are prepared to accept in the current context.

As things are still in state of flux provincially, it is not clear when we will begin substantive bargaining on these compensation matters. It is likely that compensation bargaining will not occur until the New Year. Regardless of when this bargaining actually begins, I will endeavour to keep you as fully informed as possible as we move forward, regardless of whether the “LRT bargaining train” ultimately stops at the station called “impasse,” or not, on its way to achieving a fair and just collective agreement.

Respectfully Submitted,

Gordon Swaters, AASUA Lead Negotiator

Professor of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences


On behalf of your AASUA Bargaining Team

Heather Bruce, Professor and Chair, Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science,

Rachel Milner, Faculty Service Officer, Biochemistry,

Cam Laforest, Librarian, Library and Museums – Collections,

And assisted by Timothy Mills, Assistant Lecturer, Linguistics, and Acting President, AASUA,

Brygeda Renke, Executive Director & General Counsel, AASUA,

Leanne Rosinski, Associate Director, Labour Relations, AASUA