MESSAGE FROM THE AASUA PRESIDENT
I write with my final president’s letter to you for my term as AASUA President for 2016-17.
I have done my best to keep you apprised of all major issues before the Association as they have unfolded across the year. Here are my final updates.
New Comprehensive Bargaining Regime
The ratification vote for the terms for the new comprehensive bargaining regime as set out in the “Memorandum of Agreement” of 16 May 2017 and the “Letter of Understanding” of 12 May 2017 closed at noon on Wednesday. Members voted 94% in favour. Votes cast: 673. Votes in favour: 632; Votes against: 41.
The Association’s planning for the next round of negotiations with the employer are well underway. At its meeting yesterday AASUA Council approved a set of bargaining priorities recommended by members in the consultations across the winter semester. Council also approved a “Bargaining Process & Timeline” for the 2017-18 negotiations. Under the new bargaining structure that Council has approved, Executive will be supported in its work by the Bargaining Planning Committee and seven Bargaining Advisory Committees, one for each of the Association’s constituency groups.
AASUA Council also approved a new policy for the selection of the negotiating team under which a formal call-out to members for their expressions of interest in serving on the team shall take place as soon as possible. Under this policy, the negotiating team must be in place by 31 October 2017. The negotiating team has final responsibility for drafting the language to be negotiated at the bargaining table as the Association seeks changes to the collective agreement. It has the Bargaining Planning Committee and the Bargaining Advisory Committees to draw upon for support both in the final planning stages and throughout negotiations. This is bargaining infrastructure that reflects the unique nature of the Association of Academic Staff — Canada’s largest academic staff association, with seven constituency groups.
I held two final events in June to assist those who will be directly involved in bargaining with their work from July 1st onwards: a bargaining retreat on June 20th with Jim Turk, for Executive, the Bargaining Planning Committee, and the constituencies’ Bargaining Advisory Committees, and a prospective negotiators’ workshop on June 26th with Jeff McKeil of CAUT.
New Bylaws for the Association
Yesterday AASUA Council received from the Bylaws Amendment Committee (BAC) new draft bylaws for the Association. In phase I of its process, in adherence with the mandate given to it by Council, BAC pursued a multi-faceted member-engagement process across the Fall of 2015. It then proceeded to a rigorous process of drafting and revising new bylaws based on members’ vision of the Association as articulated at the various consultation meetings in 2015. This went through several iterations with support from administrative lawyers. Council then elected, prudently, to postpone the finalizing of the draft until the new labour relations legislation for the post-secondary sector was known. Given the Association’s changed circumstances under that legislation, the committee’s final round of advice has come from a labour lawyer. In the electronic package you will find my cover letter thanking BAC members for their time and dedication to this process, and Bob Blair’s opinion on key aspects of the new bylaws.
The new bylaws will be formally considered by AASUA Council at a special meeting in the Fall scheduled to take place by October 12th. Council has the authority to return the bylaws to BAC for further revisions. Once Council has approved the new bylaws, the Association will hold a Town Hall for discussion of them by members. Ultimately, the new bylaws will need to be ratified in a vote of the entire membership.
Town Hall for Questions on Lockout/Strike Fund Recommendation
Yesterday AASUA Council also arranged for the holding of a Town Hall early in the Fall before the opening of the referendum vote on the Lockout/Strike Fund recommendations approved by members at the General Meeting of 2 May 2017. In the meantime, you may listen to Ricardo Acuña’s slide presentation setting out the rationale for the approved recommendations here.
Letters from the Provost re: ‘Teaching Enterprise Fund,’ Rent Subsidy, and EI Rebate
I also need to apprise you about two letters I received this week from the Provost.
The first letter, dated 27 June 2017, notifies the Association of the Provost’s withdrawal of the “Teaching Enterprise Fund” and affirms the 2016 decision in which the employer notified the Association of its withdrawal of the rent subsidy on the Association’s leased premises at 1901 College Plaza.
The “Teaching Enterprise Fund,” first agreed upon by then AASUA Ian Maclaren and then Provost Carl Amrhein in 2012, provides up to $100,000 to support time release for the Officers of the Association to do their work for the Association.
The University currently pays 82.5% of the rent for the premises at 1901 College Plaza.
Both of these forms of support for the Association’s work — the “Teaching Enterprise Fund” and the rent subsidy — are withdrawn on the basis that they contravene Section 148(1)(b) of the Alberta Labour Relations Code. Section 148 sets out practices that are prohibited by the employer. Section 148(1)(b) states that the employer may not “contribute financial or other support to a trade union.”
It is the Association’s position that neither of these forms of support is a prohibited practice under the Code. The Association believes that the Provost’s position is not consistent with the way in which these provisions have been interpreted.
Section 148(2)(iii), moreover, explicitly states that the employer may permit “the trade union to use the employer’s premises for the purposes of the trade union.” The Association would, in fact, prefer to have free space on north campus.
The rent subsidy, as I understand it, arises from the employer taking away from the Association what it had once provided— free space on campus, in Athabasca Hall, for decades. In 2000, the University relocated the Association from Athabasca Hall to Campus Tower, with the Association paying $1/year in rent. That is consistent with practices across the country.
A few years later the University requested that the Association move again, and it was agreed that the Association would lease space at College Plaza with the University subsidizing 82.5% of the rent. I do not know how this percentage was agreed upon. The common practice across the country where a postsecondary institution does not provide free space to a faculty or academic staff association is for the postsecondary institution to pay the association’s rent in its entirety.
The letter from the Provost states that the employer does not currently have space on campus to offer the Association. In light of that, it is the Association’s view that the rent subsidy should continue. Almost every academic staff association in the country receives either free space or a 100% rent subsidy from its post-secondary institution.
The second letter from the Provost, dated 28 June 2017, asserts that the employer believes that the monthly Employment Insurance (EI) rebate that the Association receives from it on behalf of members (5/12ths of the total rebate) also contravenes Section 148 of the Code and is not compliant with the EI Rebate program.
The Association’s position is that, on the contrary, the current practice, which has been in place for decades, is entirely consistent with the EI rebate program, and not a contravention of Section 148 of the Code. The funds, which total about a quarter of a million dollars a year, are required, under the EI rebate program, to be of direct benefit to employees, which they are under the current practice. Any change to the practice would involve inefficiencies and likely involve additional administrative expense. The direct consequence of any change to the current arrangement is that the Association would have no choice but to increase members’ dues.
The Association is considering various legal options to challenge the Provost’s actions on all three fronts.
Salary Equity Task Force
I also wish to let you know where things stand with two major initiatives I have been pursuing this year. Yesterday the Salary Equity Task Force offered a presentation to AASUA Council on its findings in relation to the mandate that it had received from Council in December to investigate what, if any, salary inequities exist for members of the academic staff who are women, a member of a visible minority, or Indigenous, or are persons with disabilities. The Task Force’s report is here, and my press release on the Task Force’s work here.
The Task Force has done extraordinary work with publicly available data, taking the first “Sunshine List” disclosures of 2016 as their starting-point. They have several caveats about the data with which they have been working, but their preliminary findings indicate that there is a significant wage-gap for three of the four equity-seeking groups. (The Task Force cannot speak to the fourth category, persons with disabilities, as they lack the data to pursue this analysis.) Their 27 June 2017 report includes a very rich literature review that I urge members to read, along with their findings.
The simple fact of the matter is that the Task Force must have the data held by the employer to pursue their analysis comprehensively and decisively. With that data the Task Force would be able to provide evidence for the amounts required for salary equity to be achieved.
I wish to extend my deep gratitude, on behalf of the membership, to the Task Force’s members, who have done extraordinary work on a very short timeline. In a mere five months they have done work that similar task forces elsewhere have taken anywhere from a year to two years to complete. The AASUA Task Force’s work is, moreover, ground-breaking: no other group has attempted analysis of pay inequities for the professoriate across and among all four federally designated equity-seeking groups.
It is a wonderful thing when members are prepared to step forward to give of their time and expertise to the work of the Association, and I ask you to give these members of the Association a virtual round of applause for their work on the Task Force:
Paige Lacy (Co-Chair), Professor, Department of Medicine; Director, Pulmonary Research Group
Zubia Mumtaz (Co-Chair), Associate Professor, School of Public Health
Malinda S. Smith (Co-Chair), Professor, Political Science
Andrew McGee, Associate Professor, Department of Economics
Rhonda J. Rosychuk, Professor, Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Pediatrics;
Director, Biostatistics Consulting Group
Natalie Sharpe, Director, Office of the Student Ombuds
Cora Weber-Pillwax, Associate Professor, Department of Educational Policy Studies; Indigenous People Education Specialization Coordinator
Janice Williamson, Professor, English & Film Studies
With funds authorized by AASUA Council, the Task Force has been supported in its work by:
Kathryn Everhart Chaffee (Research Assistant), a doctoral student in the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Arts, and
Yang S. Liu (Research Assistant), a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Educational Psychology, Faculty of Education.
Work also continues on the issue of childcare provisions at the University. I want to thank the over 700 members who took the time to complete the childcare survey in the winter. The Association will move forward on the bases of the data provided therein. While a few respondents objected to the very premise of the survey — the Association should, in their view, have no interest in such matters — the overwhelming majority stress the importance of this work. Respondents note how far behind the University of Alberta is both nationally and internationally on this issue, and comments connect the issue of childcare provisions on campus to larger issues such as faculty renewal. One member writes, “Ultimately, the provincial and federal governments should fund a universal, affordable child care program, but until such time as they do, large public-sector employers like the University of Alberta should lead the way,” another that “This is perhaps the most important issue that the University can address in order to support new faculty.” In myriad ways members call for early childhood education on campus in state-of-the-art facilities as a social good.
Duty of Fair Representation System
While a great deal of my time this year was taken up with matters in regard to the new comprehensive bargaining regime, from the Government’s consultation in the early Fall forwards to all of the policy work to create our new bargaining infrastructure, this semester I asked Executive to take steps to revise the Association’s policy documents for its representation of members. After careful work at the Executive table over a series of meetings, Council has approved change to both the “Terms of Reference” for the “Members’ Advisory Committee” and the Association’s “Membership Representation Policy.”
The documents had some archaic material in them, as well as clauses that needed some legal sharpening, but the changes also include a couple of measures to make the processes by the Association meets it duty of fair representation to members more democratic, transparent, and accountable.
Under the revised policies, Executive will call out for and appoint up to seven members to serve on the “Members’ Advisory Committee” (MAC), an advisory committee to Executive which provides support to the Executive Director in relation to grievances, and has a special responsibility when the Executive Director recommends that a member not be represented.
I encourage you to read clause 3.2 of the “Terms of Reference” for the committee, as well as the new clauses under Article 4 which provide measures for knowledge-building on MAC and information flow to Executive.
I also encourage you to read the lightly revised “Membership Representation Policy”. I want everyone to understand that under that policy should the Members’ Advisory Committee approve the Executive Director’s recommendation not to represent a member members have the right of appeal to a subcommittee of Executive.
A member asked me to strike an Appeal Committee under the policy this spring, and the committee that heard the case offered a set of recommendations to the Association for a review of our member representation processes. Process reviews are a helpful thing, and there is certainly much external expertise upon which the Association can draw for such a review. The Governance Committee will pursue these considerations next year under the leadership of Vice-President Rachel Milner.
I want to thank everyone who devoted themselves to the work of the Association this year, including outgoing members of Executive Kelly Macfarlane, Sourayan Mookerjea, and Richard Uwiera. Executive did a great deal of work this year, meeting more often than usual, for meetings of longer duration than customary, and this work is largely invisible to the membership. Council, too, worked extraordinarily hard, with four-hour meetings in May and June to bring major policy work to fruition.
I also want to thank the Association’s Executive Director, Brygeda Renke, and all of the staff — Roxanne Rowe (Associate Director, Operations), administrative assistants Linda Wagner and Shelagh Prowse, digital asset manager Maurice Morinville, and the Labour Relations Officers, Leanne Rosinski, Kevin Becker, and Aly Koskela — for their support across the year.
Finally, I want to say one last time how honoured I have been to serve as the Association’s President in 2016-17. Across this year I have done everything I can to strengthen the Association, especially in its core work of bargaining and protecting what we have negotiated.
It has been a joy for me to work with my fellow officers, Rachel Milner and Ricardo Acuña, as part of a collaborative team thinking together about how best to support the collective interests of the membership in our respective roles.
The 2017-18 Executive is as follows:
Heather Bruce, President
Rachel Milner, Vice-President
Ricardo Acuña, Treasurer
Carolyn Sale, Chair, Academic Faculty (AFC)
Cam Laforest, Chair, Academic Librarians (LIB)
Tim Mills, Chair, Academic Teaching Staff (ATS)
Calvin Barnes, Chair, Administrative and Professional Officers (APOs)
Ryan McKay, Chair, Faculty Service Officers (FSOs)
Mark Karstad, Chair, Sessional and Other Temporary Staff (SOTS)
Rineke Steenbergen, Chair, Trust Research Academic Staff (TRAS)
Judy Davidson, AFC Additional Representative
Eric Flaim, Chair, Research & Scholarly Activity
Florin Sabac, Chair, Members’ Advisory Committee
Janice Williamson, Chair, Equity
I wish the incoming President, Heather Bruce, every success in working with her fellow officers, Rachel Milner and Ricardo Acuña, and the 2017-18 Executive and Council.
The Association has made significant strides forward to becoming what it must be under the new bargaining regime — a more democratic, more effective, member-run Association rigorously striving to make significant gains for the membership. There are some essential things missing from our collective agreement, and members have been very clear about core priorities for the next round. Final preparations for that next round include ratifying a lockout/strike fund so that we may join the CAUT Defence Fund; additional research on the part of the Bargaining Planning Committee; a mandate for the negotiating team approved by Executive; and the writing of new contract language. In all this we must remain focused, and find ways to co-ordinate diverse interests. It is essential that the membership pay attention to the Association’s work and participate in it wherever possible. I wish us all the greatest possible success in these endeavours.
Yours for a more democratic, more effective, member-run Association,