ULGA Response to potential faculty worker (ULFA) strike and job action 

Below is a number of responses to questions that your graduate student Labour Relations Committee executive has been receiving. The situation with our faculty, friends, and allies is ongoing and evolving. As we are updated, we will update you. 

What is happening? Are faculty going on strike? 

There has been no decision or vote to strike yet by faculty members. The earliest a strike vote can take place is January 31st. Even if a majority of faculty workers vote in favour of a strike, that doesn’t mean that a strike is certain. 

ULFA members have been without a contract for almost two years. ULFA wants to reach a fair agreement with the U of L administration. ULFA has indicated that they intend to give negotiations every possible chance to succeed and use all of the available tools to avoid a strike and #savethesemester. Further delays in reaching a settlement threaten the quality of academic programmes at the University of Lethbridge and consequently, your U of L experience.

When could a strike happen? 

The end of mediation between ULFA and the employer, on Monday, January 17th 2022, initiated a two week ‘cooling off’ period. At the end of this two week period, ULFA can hold a strike vote under the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB). Similarly, the U of L Administration could apply to the ALRB for a vote to lock the faculty out of the workplace. 

A strike vote is not taken lightly and represents the last resort to achieve an agreement after all other negotiation efforts have been exhausted. A “yes” vote does not automatically mean that ULFA will go on strike. It simply means that the membership (faculty) has given the ULFA Executive Committee a mandate to call a strike should further bargaining efforts fail to reach a fair agreement. We hope that a “yes” vote will motivate the Administration to reach a fair settlement before any strike deadline.

What is a ‘strike’ or ‘job action’?

Strikes have been historically used to leverage a collective group of people to face the power that an employer has. This is one way to equalize the power dynamic that exists between employees and employers. The withholding of labour by a group is much more powerful than an individual.

How would a strike impact my work?

As an academically employed graduate student your employment supervisor will most likely be on strike. However, their action does not impact your pay. As employees of the University of Lethbridge—not the faculty—it is up to the employer to find work for you to do that falls within your contractual hours and your assignment of duties. This work must remain within your current job description AND WILL NOT INVOLVE TAKING OVER FACULTY TEACHING DUTIES WHILE FACULTY ARE ON STRIKE. If you work as a GA-Research, continue to do your work as normal (provided you can do so following all required safety measures); however, there will be no communication between you and the faculty members on strike, so it is advised you come up with a work plan before job action is planned to be taken.

All academically employed graduate students are required to continue working as set out in your contracts. Review your contract and your assignment of duties to understand exactly what work you are contracted to do, and what you are not contractually obligated to do. 

For questions on your work expectations and role as a TA/GA if faculty is on strike, contact: 

Helen Kelley, Associate Dean

School of Graduate Studies

Office: B611 (University Hall) – office is working remotely

Phone: (403) 332-4403

Email: helen.kelley@uleth.ca

Jackie Rice, Dean

School of Graduate Studies

Office: B632 (University Hall) – office is working remotely 

Phone: (403) 329-2431

Fax: (403) 382-7185
Email: j.rice@uleth.ca

What work am I not allowed to do?

The Employer cannot ask you to do work that falls outside of our duties. For example, they cannot ask you to clean or teach/lecture. If you feel uncomfortable with the work assigned to you during a strike/lockout, please reach out to us at gsa.labour@uleth.ca, and we will help you to determine if it is inappropriate. 

Will I still get paid?

Yes. Your work and pay will be uninterrupted. 

How can I support faculty if they strike?

Your Labour Relations Committee  stands in solidarity with ULFA. We will be joining faculty workers on the picket line, if it comes to that, in solidarity. We encourage you to join us on the picket lines, and stand alongside us and ULFA. 

If faculty workers do go on strike, you can support their efforts by only working the hours you are paid for, only completing the tasks assigned by the administration, and NOT taking over instruction or the work that was done by faculty prior to the strike. If you do not have to cross the picket lines to complete your work, we strongly encourage you not to. Taking on extra work, doing unpaid work, or taking on faculty duties that are not part of your assigned duties would all be considered crossing the picket line. 

What are my research/thesis responsibilities?

Your role as a TA/RA is separate from your role as a graduate student. TA/RA work is paid work, and treated as such by your contract, the administration, and income tax regulations. Your role as a student regarding your research and thesis will likely not change, and you should be able to continue your research on or off campus during a strike. 

Your thesis responsibilities may change drastically during a potential strike. Your thesis and research responsibilities related to your thesis can still take place without interruption. This may look different depending on where you are in your program (thesis vs. course based), the courses you are taking, and your ability to do your work independently. For example, if you are in the early stages of your thesis journey you may require human or animal ethics approval which could delay your approval/start of research. If you are in the midst of data analysis, and do not require input from your supervisor, you may not notice much of an impact. Or if you are nearing the completion of your program, you may need critical feedback in order to progress, which will be halted.

How to get in contact with my supervisor? 

If the faculty go on strike or get locked out, they will not have access to University hosted online services (e.g., Microsoft Teams, Moodle, Outlook email). We suggest that if you need to contact your supervisor during a strike or lock out that you secure private lines of communication (e.g., personal email addresses, personal phone numbers). 

What should I do if my employment supervisor crosses the picket line? 

While it is considered a deeply unproductive activity to cross a picket line when your colleagues have organized in collective action, it is not impossible that your employment supervisor may make this choice. You are required to fulfill your duties as a TA/GA ONLY according to your contract and assignment of duties. In other words, if your employment supervisor continues to teach as normal, complete your duties as a TA as normal.

What other work actions can I perform in solidarity?

To show solidarity with ULFA and not cross the picket line yourself, you can take job action by only doing the required work as mandated by your assignment of duties while the strike is ongoing, and track your hours closely to ensure you are only working the hours you are contracted to. Taking on additional tasks, or taking on work that would normally be done by another TA or a faculty worker would be considered crossing the picket line.

Does this affect me differently as an international student?

No. Your contract with the university as a TA/GA will remain in place even if there is a strike, and it will not change your status as a student at the University of Lethbridge. 

If you have concerns, contact the school of Graduate Studies at (403) 329-2793 or by email for your faculty (find contact information here). You can also contact the International Center:

SU060 (Students’ Union Building)




Can the University administration lock us out?

A lockout must be labour board supervised and voted on by the employer (the Board of Governors). As we are still bargaining ourselves, and continue to meet with the employer to bargain our collective agreement, there is no sign of a lockout of graduate student workers at this time. 

What can I do to help?

Before a strike vote is cast, counted, and served, there are many ways to support the negotiations of ULFA. Share your voice of support by emailing ULFA at admin@ulfa.ca, on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@ULFAssociation) using the hashtags #ouruniveristy, #worthfightingfor, and #savethesemester. You can contact Dr. Michael Mahon, the UofL President, at 403-329-2201 or president@uleth.ca. Solidarity throughout this process can put pressure on the administration to reach a fair collective agreement.

If strike action takes place, there will be a picket line set up by the ULFA. We encourage all our members to attend and show solidarity on the line. More information on sign up, dates, and times will come.

Learn about the issues that ULFA is fighting for (taken from their January 19th, communication):

  • Equity: 32% of our members are paid less than the average salary in Lethbridge. Sessional lecturers are the University’s most poorly paid members. They have no job security and do not receive funds to cover professional expenses. The Board will not commit to anything beyond tweaks to existing language to address this inequity. In addition, the Board will not provide any health benefits to sessional lecturers, many of whom have been working in this precarious position for years.
  • Parity: There are five universities that ULFA and the Board have, for years, agreed on as comparators in collective bargaining. The UofL’s frontline teaching staff members are paid substantially less (10-15%) than colleagues at any of these institutions. This has caused major problems for faculty recruitment and retention. The Board’s latest proposal will leave ULFA Members even further behind, posing challenges for both recruitment and retention of faculty. 
  • Respect: During the worst budget cutbacks of a generation and an aggressive restructuring plan, the Board has limited faculty and students’ ability to contribute to the University’s decision-making. The Board even refused to allow Members a say in how their own money will be spent on benefits like vision and dental care.

Why show solidarity?

Did you know that the Graduate Collective Agreement has been expired longer than the ULFA Collective Agreement? By showing solidarity with other groups and standing together sends a message that we are not alone and that our Collective Agreement is also important and #worthfightingfor! 

Further information: 

ULFA “Save the semester: information for students” page.

ULFA contract negotiations news and updates