I hope you had an opportunity for some time relaxing, recovering, and sharing with loved ones over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
I am sending out this message to update you on the current timelines and process for bargaining the renewal of a collective agreement with our employer. I also want to provide a reminder of how we developed our bargaining mandate, and to share some thoughts on the relationship between the current context and our mandate.
You may recall that last fall, through the Bargaining Planning Committee, we carried out a broad consultation with the AASUA membership across all constituencies to determine what priorities the Negotiating Team should bring forward in bargaining our collective agreement. The Bargaining Planning Committee then took the results of that consultation and, in collaboration with the Negotiating Team, prepared a Bargaining Priorities Document. Those priorities were recommended by the AASUA Executive and given final approval by AASUA Council on December 5, 2019. Executive then worked from those priorities to develop the bargaining mandate that would be given to the Negotiating Team for bargaining with the employer, which was to begin in January 2019.
With our collective agreement set to expire on June 30, 2020, AASUA sent notice of intention to commence bargaining to the employer in January, and an initial meeting was held in February to set the bargaining calendar. The exchange of proposals was set for March 10, and although AASUA was ready to proceed, the employer cancelled that meeting so they could figure out the implications of the provincial budget for the university. AASUA agreed to delay until later in March or early April, but the COVID-19 pandemic hit and that resulted in a series of further delays.
As an update, I wish to advise you that we have recently agreed with the employer that our respective bargaining teams will exchange initial proposals virtually on October 21, and that bargaining will commence in earnest on November 2. I want to commit to you that we, the Executive and Negotiating Team, will be as open and transparent as possible throughout the bargaining process, with the disclaimer that there will be times when considerations of strategy or of a particular dynamic at the table may prevent us from sharing specific details and information. All information on bargaining will be delivered to members by way of the AASUA Bargaining Bulletin.
It is important to note that, although we have made minor adjustments to AASUA’s opening proposal to include some provisions based on both COVID-19 and university restructuring, the Negotiating Team’s mandate has remained virtually unchanged since March. Further details on the opening proposal will be shared with members after bargaining commences.
We are aware that the combination of COVID-19, government funding cuts, and the resulting U of A restructuring plan have caused no small amount of stress and worry on campus. During difficult times like these it is not unusual for members to entertain the idea that maybe, if we offer up some salary and benefit concessions during bargaining, we can somehow help the university better navigate this crisis.
At AASUA we are firmly of the position that it is never our job to offer up or propose that our salaries and benefits be cut. Our bargaining mandate is based on the knowledge that our role is to always seek to advocate for and advance the interests (economic, benefits, work-load, job security, etc) of our members.
If the employer sees salary rollbacks as desirable to their interest, it should be incumbent upon them to come to the bargaining table with a proposal and negotiate from that position. Through that type of negotiation we can ensure that, even though we may not get all we are asking for in economic and benefit gains, there is still room for us to make progress on non-financial gains and changes.
History (both the voluntary 5% salary roll-backs across the public service in the 90’s in response to the Klein cuts, and the 2009 furlough day vote which saw all staff agree to take six days off without pay) has shown that when the employer and the government know that the union is prepared to take a salary cut, the following things happen:
- the employer feels no need to negotiate because they have what they want right off the bat, this means staff do not make any gains at all on any aspect of their employment;
- the government feels perfectly secure in cutting further than they had planned so the salary cut does not actually result in any more funds going to the University;
- job cuts and layoffs across campus still happen to the same degree;
- the university has no compulsion to make any changes to its top heavy structure, and actually doubles down on more senior management positions;
- because salary cuts are applied across the board (more on that below), and no progress was made on job security, employees who started out underpaid and precarious end up even more underpaid and more precarious; and
- employees become complicit in the reduction of service and overall quality of the university.
Furthermore, as a union, we stand on the principal of never negotiating for different gains and outcomes for different members. What that means is that we will not take one subset of our membership and negotiate economic or benefit cuts to them while we bargain economic and benefit gains (or even status quo) for a different subset of our members. In other words, negotiating a 5% pay cut means that every one of our 4,100 members gets that pay cut. This approach on our part makes it impossible for the employer to use a divide-and-conquer strategy of pitting one group of our members against another group.
So while we absolutely appreciate the sentiment behind wanting to discuss concessions, and we applaud the intention, it is not something that AASUA’s leadership believes we should be engaging in.
It is also worth pointing out that, despite the funding cuts, we are in a very strong bargaining position. Both the McKinnon Report (despite its methodological flaws) and the U of A’s own documentation from Uniforum and Nous Group show that the fiscal problem at the U of A is not a result of staff salaries. Rather, they show the problem arising because the ratio of funds spent on front-line academic staff to funds spent on upper level administration has shifted significantly in the wrong direction over the past decade. We spend a greater portion of our operating budget on administration than any of our comparator universities, provincially and nationally.
As such, although we know bargaining will be difficult and contentious, we welcome the opportunity to advance and advocate on behalf of your priorities and interests in the coming weeks and months.
As always, please do not hesitate to reach out with any comments, questions, or concerns you might have about any of the above or anything else, either via the comments below or by direct e-mail to me.