A white woman with short grey hair and glasses smiles in front of a white wall and a colourful flower-burst painting. She is wearing a white cardigan and a blue and white shirt with flowers.

As AASUA's Equity Officer, Terra Garneau has represented the union's work on a national stage.

As an early-career engineer in the 1980s, AASUA’s Equity Officer acquired an acute understanding of the impact of discrimination.

“My interest in equity comes from my experience working in a very male dominated industry,” Terra Garneau, Equity Officer, said. “I ran into challenges involved in getting good projects, and often faced unfairness.”

She was almost denied the ability to attend a conference on women in engineering in Calgary, but Garneau stood her ground. 

“I had a manager say ‘but who’s going to look after your kids?’” Garneau said. “I said ‘I’m pretty sure I can figure that out.’”

Now, as AASUA’s Equity Officer, Garneau has played a key role in creating an equity article for AASUA’s Collective Agreement, the contract that outlines employment terms and conditions. 

The equity article — Article 23 — is an essential step forward for preventing discrimination against equity deserving groups, Garneau said. 

One of the obligations the article outlines is university administration’s commitment to “identify, eliminate, or modify employment policies, practices, and system trends or behaviours, which have unfavourable effect on the career progression” of staff belonging equity-deserving groups.  

“It’s a way to keep the Employer’s attention on continuing issues of social justice, and correct for inequities,” Garneau said. 

Assembling the team

The equity article, finalized during the bargaining process for AASUA’s 2020-2024 Collective Agreement, was developed through a joint Employer-AASUA committee after AASUA proposed its creation. 

“At the first committee meeting, I looked around, and said ‘I don’t think we have the right people in the room,’” Garneau said, noting the committee was largely composed of white women. 

At Garneau’s recommendation, the committee was expanded to include more diverse members, such as Indigenous and Black academics and members of administration.  

“We need to respect that there are other populations that we have to reflect,” Garneau said. “After the committee was expanded, we all sat in a very little room and worked out the language article by article.”

One part of the article requires the Employer to collect information on the demographics of academic staff members. 

“If you don’t measure demographics, you can continue with practices that exclude people,” Garneau said, adding AASUA now has seen two demographic reports — notably, the most recent report shows an increase in diversity. 

“Now, we need to get administration to do a salary survey,” Garneau said. “Yes, we’re hiring more diverse people, but are we compensating them on the same level as other groups?”

Representing AASUA on a national stage 

Garneau presented on AASUA’s equity article during a panel at the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) Collective Bargaining and Organizing Forum in March of 2023.  

“I was quite proud to represent AASUA and share our successes in bargaining,” Garneau said. 

AASUA is a unique academic staff association because it includes members from a variety of different employment types: Faculty, contract staff, librarians, researchers, Faculty Service Officers, and Administrative Professional Officers, like Garneau.

This broad membership meant the language of the equity article had to be nuanced and supportive of a variety of different workers, Garneau noted. 

“We’re looking out for a lot more than just faculty, and in doing that I think we’ve got a solid article,” Garneau said.  

Supporting world-class research

After graduating from the University of Alberta in 1985 with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering, Garneau went to work as an engineer and product manager for Alberta Government Telephones (AGT), which later privatized and merged with TELUS Communications. 

Garneau came to the U of A after connecting with the Department Chair in Electrical and Computer Engineering through her work setting up a conference with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). 

Now, Garneau works with academic leadership and individual faculty members to secure research funding as a Research Partner for the Vice-President of Research and Innovation (VPRI). 

Though she hasn’t sat down and calculated the costs, she estimates she brings in around $20-million for U of A research every year. 

Before she was elected to her role as Equity Officer, Garneau served as an AASUA Councillor, Chair of the APO Standing Committee, as well as on the Member Engagement Committee, among other roles. 

Now, Garneau is serving her second term as AASUA’s Equity Officer. As part of her work, she will sit on AASUA’s Bargaining Planning Committee in the upcoming year as the union prepares for negotiating a renewed Collective Agreement. 

The Bargaining Planning Committee — composed of seven AASUA constituency directors representing the union’s different employment types —works in collaboration with AASUA’s Negotiating Team to establish bargaining priorities for the union. 

“I see my role as bringing an equity lens into that priority planning,” Garneau said. “We’ve got issues of workload, issues of compensation — each of the constituency groups have set their priorities for where they want to get to. Now let’s look at that in terms of making sure the language we’re proposing doesn’t hurt employee groups.”

A seat at the table

Garneau said she has seen the U of A’s focus on equity increase during her time there, and hopes to continue seeing improvement.

“We’re getting more structural in providing support that’s needed in the equity area,” Garneau said, giving the example of administrative and support staff positions dedicated to equity which are now widely accessible across colleges, as opposed to only present in certain faculties. 

Granting bodies have also launched new programs targeted at increasing equity, she said, such as the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Dimensions Program. 

Last year, the U of A added a Vice-Provost dedicated to EDI, and a Vice-Provost dedicated to Indigenous Programming & Research. The university has also signed on to the Scarborough Charter, which represents a commitment to take concrete action on anti-Black racism. 

Garneau said she would like to see the Employer and AASUA move the university towards more equitable practices as “colleagues, rather than in conflict.”

“Our role is to be at the table as this is developing, and we’ve got a seat at the table through the equity article,” Garneau said. 

She added partnership with the union from the point equity initiatives start is essential for avoiding disagreements down the road. 

“As a union, if you’re not at the table, you end up bringing it to the bargaining table.”