As we begin another busy week, I’d like to share a few thoughts with you – from solidarity events in support of our Lethbridge colleagues, to working with students in this uncertain time, to thinking about how bargaining and potential job action will affect our research.
Solidarity and bargaining
Last week, our academic colleagues in Lethbridge embarked on the first ever strike at a publicly-funded Alberta university. They did this because they are facing an employer who would rather grandstand than bargain seriously with them. They did it to preserve their academic institution for current and future academics and students. I was pleased to be able to join them on their picket lines. While they are understandably worried and uncertain about what the immediate future holds, they are united in believing that this is the best path to a better future, given the position their employer has chosen to take.
Meanwhile, our colleagues at Mount Royal University in Calgary are in mediation, and the AASUA bargaining team will attend our first mediation session this Friday. I can assure you that your negotiating team and your Executive are doing everything we can to secure a deal without resorting to strike. I’d like to remind you that this process could end at any time if our employer would choose to accept the moderate, affordable, well-reasoned proposals that we have on the table. Despite their rhetoric, it is clear from the analysis conducted by our team that they can afford to do so (read the February 11, 2022 Bargaining Bulletin).
We also participated in a solidarity event here in Edmonton, at the same time as there was a solidarity event in Calgary. One of the reasons for participating in these events is to connect with other academics, to support each other. Another reason is to make it clear to each of our employers – and to the government that is almost certainly influencing bargaining from the shadows – that we stand together. They cannot pick us off one by one, as if we were separate, vulnerable islands. Together, the community of academics in Alberta is strong: thousands of individuals, who together deliver post-secondary education to our province’s next generation (and to myriad students from around the world as well). When we act together, we act from a position of strength and authority.
We continue to engage with students, discussing the issues they face and how they may be affected by the different proposals on the table. I’ll be meeting with grad students and postdocs this week to ensure that they know where we are at, and to map out exactly how our situation and potential next moves may impact them.
You will get a message shortly from us about a student-led event on Thursday aimed at encouraging the provincial government to invest some of its anticipated surplus in post-secondary. I encourage you to participate if you are able.
Research continues during strike
The other question on many people’s minds is that of research. If we go on strike, many of you are worried what will happen to upcoming funding deadlines, what will happen to the students and postdocs and others employed in your labs. While we are on strike, any research or research-related activities you undertake will be unpaid. However, AASUA will not stand in the way of researchers continuing to do their research during a strike and we hope that neither will the Employer stand in the way. It is in the nature of academics – of most humans – to care about the welfare of those we are responsible for. To that end, AASUA is doing everything possible to ensure that members may continue to work on critical aspects of their research in the event of a strike. This includes:
• Provisions in the Essential Services Agreement (ESA) to allow access to research facilities “to prevent irreparable damage to ongoing research and/or materials for teaching”. Part C, provision 1.1.i states:
Bargaining Unit Members will be allowed access, without pay, to certain University facilities, upon approval by the Provost and Vice-President (Academic) and the President of the AASUA, or their respective delegates, in order to prevent irreparable damage to ongoing research and/or materials for teaching such as damage to plant and animal life, loss of life, loss of live and/or decomposable materials, damage to equipment or supplies, or loss of non-repeatable research in progress;… (the process to access university facilities is set out in the Part C of the ESA here).
In addition, academics can choose to continue doing research that does not require access to research facilities – AASUA will not ask you to withdraw this particular labour during a strike. Yesterday's announcement by the Faculty of Science that all research would immediately cease during labour disruption except for activities permitted by the ESA seriously misrepresents the effects of the ESA.
• Proposing a Work Stoppage Protocol Agreement (WSPA) to the employer that would preserve access to computing resources required to perform this work, including university emails.
• Preparing an FAQ for members around the topic of research in job action. (We will let you know when that is available.)
We believe that all of this would benefit both members and the institution, as it would enable members to (for example) meet funding deadlines. So far, our employer has not responded to our request to meet and negotiate the WSPA. The Lethbridge employer, like Concordia before them, has chosen to cut off their academics’ institutional email access. I wish I could say that I expect our employer to be more sensible, but I do not. I advise everyone to explore contingencies. Where possible, notify funders – external collaborators, and anyone else who ought to know – of an alternative email they can reach you at. Also, watch for an AASUA "campaigns" email shortly where we will be inviting you to share with us your non-ualberta email address, so that you can remain in touch with us if the employer does cut off our university emails.
We head into mediation this Friday prepared to work actively with the employer to reach an agreement that both parties can accept. We will continue to keep members informed as we have developments to report. In the meantime, please reach out to the Job Action Committee to see how you can help. The best path to an uninterrupted semester is for the employer to agree to reasonable terms at the bargaining table. The more people we have involved in the job action preparations, the clearer this fact will be to them. (Contact Rick Brick to volunteer on the Job Action Committee).