Getting to the pointy end of bargaining
The ULGSA Bargaining Team held its fifth bargaining session with the University of Lethbridge on December 13th-15th. It was a more productive session than the one held in October, but not without some contention. In the end, the team managed to sign-off on four more articles and committed to tabling the union’s monetary demands during our next meeting with the University in January.
The union team signed off on two new articles this session: Technological Change and Training. The former offers members security and union involvement if the Employer introduces technological changes that affect working conditions. The latter makes it clear that all training pertaining to a GA’s responsibilities should be included as part of an employee’s contractual hours, and therefore compensated.
The union team also pushed back against concessionary demands made by the university in the Renewal and Termination before signing off on some minor changes to terminology. The concessionary demands the University proposed in the Termination article were particularly problematic: the language would have allowed the university to dismiss GA’s without cause. The union team was clear that we would never accept such concessions, and the university ultimately withdrew them.
While we continued to make progress in our exchanges on Appointments and Assignment of Duties, the contentious articles discussed in our last bargaining update, three more issues of contention were discussed during this session: Parking, Holidays, and Academic Freedom.
On Appointments and Assignment of Duties, the issue of the Employer’s desire to expand its powers to prorate Full and Half Fixed appointment remains problematic for the union team. The union’s position is that any deviation from what the parties have agreed to in the collective agreement should require union approval. The team is also concerned about the impact of such deviations on the funding commitments made by the university in offers of admission.
On Parking, the University has indicated that it has no interest in hardcoding into the collective agreement the existing policy of reserving 75 spaces for graduate student employees. As members will know, these are not free spaces. Our members pay for them. The existing agreement—which is not an agreement in writing, and therefore can be changed at any point by the University—only ensures that the 75 spaces are available to our members for their employment. While the University indicated that they have no intention of changing that policy, the only guarantee that they won’t is a written agreement.
On Holidays, the University has agreed to include a new holiday article, but they want flexibility to require our members to work on those holidays. The union team has made it clear that that isn’t an option. While our members can choose of their own volition to work on holidays, our position is that they cannot be required to do so and that they deserve days off too. The collective agreement already makes clear that our members do not provide an essential service (and all that entails legally). So why would they ever be required to work on a university holiday?
On Academic Freedom, the University offered a counter proposal that was totally inconsistent with the principles of academic freedom. Academic freedom has a long history in the academy and is often seen as the lifeblood of every university. It affords academic employees protections not seen outside of the academy to ensure that universities remain places where genuine academic inquiry and contentious debate can and should take place. Many graduate student employees at other universities have these important protections, and the union’s position is that University of Lethbridge GAs should have them too.
By the end of this three-day session, the union team determined that we had made as much progress as we could on non-monetary issues at this point. During the next session, we will table the union’s monetary demands.
Monetary negotiations are often the most contentious part of bargaining. We hope to make progress and perhaps even reach a tentative agreement with the University during the three-day session in January. And we’ve even agreed to dates in February should there be enough progress but no tentative agreement. But this is also the time to prepare for the possibility that we will reach impasse, especially given the recent history of labour relations in bargaining at the University. To that end, expect the union to reach out to members in the new year as we prepare to mobilise for potential job action. A mobilised membership is the key to securing a fair agreement should your team be unable to move the University towards a fair agreement at the bargaining table.
We will provide another update in January.
As always, you are our strength at the table.
Your Graduate Student Employee Bargaining Team
Rachel Stark (PSAC Representative)
Silja Freitag (PSAC Researcher)
John Eustace (PSAC Negotiator)