From left to right: Camille Laforest, Brian Fleck, Valentina Kozlova.

AASUA’s Negotiating Team is working hard to prepare for the union’s upcoming round of negotiations this winter. 

In June, Cam Laforest, Valentina Kozlova, and Brian Fleck, were appointed to AASUA’s Negotiating Team. The team will work to negotiate improved working conditions through the renewal of AASUA’s Collective Agreement, the contract that outlines the terms of employment for University of Alberta academic staff.  

With Lead Negotiator Cherie Klassen on board, the team is set to begin bargaining in the new year. Joining the team as ex officio will be past Lead Negotiator and current AASUA President Gordon Swaters. The team also includes the following resource persons: Executive Director Brygeda Renke, Associate Director Labour Relations Leanne Roskinski, Beth Powell, and Kelly MacFarlane. 

Laforest is ready for another round

Cam Laforest is no stranger to AASUA’s Negotiating Team. This upcoming round of bargaining will be the librarian’s second after he joined the team in 2020. 

Conditions have changed significantly since then, Laforest noted, adding he is feeling confident about the gains AASUA can reasonably expect at the table.

“We’re going to be in a stronger position based on the economic environment in Canada,” Laforest said. “Given inflation and the cost of living, in addition to the fact that the province has a surplus now.”

Through his work in the university’s collection strategies unit, Laforest plays a key role in making sure U of A educators and researchers have the resources they need. 

“We’re curating the library collection so that it’s as best as it can be for the needs of the community,” Laforest said. “We’re in constant communication with all the different faculties and departments and researchers.”

Laforest formerly served as an AASUA Councillor, and as Director of the Librarian Constituency on AASUA Executive. When he was looking for a new challenge, the Negotiating Team seemed like the perfect opportunity to apply the skills he’d developed in contract negotiations with publishers in a new way. 

“I felt it was something that I was well suited to as it’s part of my job in acquisitions,” Laforest said. 

In the last round the Negotiating Team had a clear strategy, Laforest said. It was “a really positive experience” when accounting for how the union worked together. 

“I was especially encouraged to see how inclusive of the seven different constituencies the process was, it was really built on democratic foundations and did look out for the most vulnerable of our members from the outset, which was a priority for me personally,” Laforest said. 

He noted, however, that the process itself was challenging, and that there was often “very little progress” with the Employer. The bargaining process lasted two years, from 2020-22.

“It was certainly a disappointment, but not entirely unexpected,” Laforest said. “It was encouraging to be able to get the salary increases that we did, although one real disappointment was our concession on the two-tier pay scale for contract Academic Teaching Staff (ATS).”

Laforest said he is hopeful AASUA can address this new disparity in their upcoming round. 

Kozlova to bring governance knowledge to negotiations 

Valentina Kozlova is a full teaching professor in the Department of Economics belonging to AASUA’s Academic Teaching Staff (ATS) constituency, the group composed of contract instructors. Kozlova has extensive experience representing ATS in U of A governance. 

“A few years ago, I joined a committee that really needed an ATS member,” Kozlova said. “It seemed to me it was very important to have an ATS representative when all these decisions are being made about the direction of the university, like ‘what is the student experience?’ or ‘what is the plan for the next ten years?’”

Since then, Kozlova has served on an ATS Hiring Committee for the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences (ALES), the Dean of Arts Selection Committee, General Faculties Council (GFC), the GFC Executive Subcommittee on Governance and Procedural Oversight, and the University Strategic Plan Steering Committee. 

ATS are often underrepresented in university governance, Kozlova said, mainly for two reasons: policies limiting whether or to what degree ATS can serve on governance committees, and the fact that unlike their faculty counterparts, ATS are not paid for service work. 

Kozlova said the importance of ATS for the U of A should not be underestimated. 

“In teaching, we rely very heavily on ATS — with ATS teaching half of all U of A courses even though we aren’t as numerous as faculty,” Kozlova said. “When students come to campus, it’s very likely that they’re going to have an ATS member teaching their class.”

In addition to advocating for ATS in her various roles, Kozlova said the time she spends in university governance gives her the opportunity to learn more about how decisions are made at the U of A. 

“It’s very eye opening and makes you understand a lot better how the university operates and where you fit in it,” she said. 

Kozlova is excited to bring her knowledge of the university to her role on the Negotiating Team, in addition to her perspectives as an ATS member. 

“What happens in this round of negotiation affects all of us very directly,” Kozlova said. “It’s something that we all care about, right, it’s pay, it’s working conditions.

“It’s going to be interesting to participate in and contribute to this important task.”

'We're looking for a fair contract': Fleck 

Brian Fleck is a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering whose research focuses on fluid mechanics, an area that branches into a multitude of different topics stemming from wind power to building ventilation related to virus transmission. 

“I’m a person who likes to try different things,” Fleck said. “I’m not afraid to look into new topics and see how they relate back to my main fundamental areas of interest.”

This drive for exploration led Fleck to hold leadership roles on campus including Department Chair of Mechanical Engineering, and Provost Fellow to the office of the Vice-President (Academic). No stranger to involvement in AASUA, he also served as Academic Faculty Constituency Director from 2019-2022. 

Fleck stepped forward for a leadership position at that time partly because of changes in provincial legislation that transformed how AASUA operates overnight: in 2017, a change to the Post-Secondary Learning Act (PSLA) designated AASUA as a trade union and gave it the legal right to strike under the labour relations code.

“The abrupt change in our legal position to actually took away one of the luxuries we had, which was binding arbitration,” Fleck said. “I knew we would suddenly be in a more tense situation where we were a union, which completely changes the game for getting the contract we deserve.”

Fleck was on sabbatical for the past year. He said he is excited to return to the university and dive into his work as a Negotiating Team member. 

“I believe good compensation as well as respectful environment between our members and the university administration not only makes our living conditions good but really is good for students, too,” Fleck said. “Having these things means we can attract the top scholars and keep doing excellent work.”

Though he knows it won’t be easy, Fleck said he is ready to do all he can to help AASUA achieve the best deal for all members. 

“I’ve been told before that I’m a very passionate person,” Fleck said. “I’m ready to suffer the slings and arrows that are going to come at us in this negotiation, because we’ll need resolve to get the contract we need and avoid a strike.

“We’re not looking for a fight. We’re looking for a fair contract.”