Dear Members,

Many of us are concerned about how the Omicron variant of COVID is likely to affect the safety of staff and students on campus, especially after the planned February 28 return to in-person teaching. I am grateful to those members who have reached out to me with concerns and thoughts on this issue. This is a serious situation, with many competing factors to weigh in the decision. I will continue to engage with senior administration to press for all relevant safety measures, including ventilation improvements and support for remote teaching, research, and other work. I am also asking them to share details about how and when decisions will be made to extend remote teaching if the Omicron variant does not subside.

Formal mediation at the bargaining table at the University of Lethbridge has now ended without agreement. The parties are at impasse and ULFA has reported on their website that they are within two weeks of being able to hold a strike vote. With this, and with the Concordia University of Edmonton strike fresh in our minds, a lot of us are starting to think even more urgently about the possibility of a strike here, and its implications for our students, our personal finances, and our research. Our Job Action Committee has been hard at work preparing for the possibility and many of our members now have real experience walking the picket line in solidarity with Concordia.

I will be turning my communications more toward the topic of different possible scenarios for resolving bargaining – including but not limited to strike – over the coming weeks. The goal of the AASUA’s Negotiations Team and of AASUA leadership in general (myself included) is to get a fair deal for our members, so that we are best enabled to do the work that is the beating heart of this institution: the teaching, the research, all of the scholarly and academic work that our members are here for. It is within the power of our employer at any moment to agree to our very reasonable requests now, to end the uncertainty and restore a measure of collegial trust.

A big part of the power of the Concordia strike is the support of their students. Our own students are noticing the strike at this university, and speculating on what it means for UofA. If you haven’t already seen it, I recommend the recent editorial in the Gateway by Emily Williams: “For faculty associations, the right to strike is a powerful tool”. The employer is asking for a dramatic cut not only to our salaries, and benefits, but to our academic freedom and various other aspects of our work here at the UofA. To accept the employer’s proposal would mean a long-term loss in the quality of education that students receive at this university. We are prepared to go on strike, if that is what it takes to get a fair deal for our members and to ensure quality education for our students.

Meanwhile, we have resumed bargaining. Our bargaining team presented AASUA’s compensation proposal on Friday (January 14), and we have further sessions scheduled this Friday and next Thursday (January 21 and 27). It is at these meetings that we are likely to discover whether our employer is interested in coming to a fair agreement, or whether they would prefer to follow the examples of Concordia and Lethbridge. We will keep you apprised of all developments.

Tim Mills

AASUA President