AUFA/CUPE Designation Q&A

Is there a possibility that AUPE would attempt to designate professionals into AUPE?

This is something we are aware of, as this question can be raised irrespective of the CUPE designation question, but not until July 2022 under the new legislation. Traditionally the arguments over designation are all over the place at AU – AU’s lines are drawn in a very strange way, even seemingly arbitrary way. However, there is a rational reason that professionals are in AUFA. Professionals play a bigger role in course development and programming than they do in other universities. However, in some cases, the line between professionals and AUPE is blurry. If AUPE raises a designation question regarding our professionals they will come up against good arguments, a community of interest, and a 35-year bargaining history. The Labour Board is also loathe to divide up existing collective agreements due to the complexity and work involved. Our arguments are prepared for this and we want to reference history rather than go in to a blank slate situation.

If AUFA or CUPE say no, will that end that discussion?
If AUFA membership votes no, we will stop the discussion. It can be revisited in the future. For example, we could go through a round of bargaining and look at it again. If CUPE and AUFA say yes, we would then go to the labour board. If CUPE says no and AUFA says yes, we might want to revisit the question as we do not technically require CUPE’s consent—in fact anybody can take a designation challenge to the labour board. However, in the best interests of the parties involved that if a designation challenge were to be brought forward, that the parties involved were in agreement. I don’t think that AUFA members would be comfortable at this time pursuing a challenge if CUPE members were not in favour.

Who has authority here, the LRB or the Board?
The sole power is with the labour board, not the board of governors.

How would the day to day operations of the university change if the tutors were in the unit?
This is not currently known and is being explored, but we’re approaching it positively.

Should CUPE go in our contract or have a separate one?
We’re examining this, but prefer our contract under the lecturer job title. This question is one that the labour board would likely ask: where in the current contract would the tutors fit best? At the moment, we have been advised and are suggesting that the currently unused position of Lecturer would work well. Any other changes to the contract would have to take place in bargaining itself with the employer, so finding a place for them to fit is key, any changes desired on the part of AUFA or the employer would need to be worked out during bargaining or through an MOA after the designation challenge itself.

How many tutors are there compared to academics and professionals?
Approximately 350 tutors and 50 out of province who are not currently represented by an labour organization—these out of province tutors would be brought into AUFA should a challenge go forward. There are approx. 210 professionals and 200 academics.

How does this affect using grad students as tutors?
Not sure, will investigate. However, there are precedents for this at other universities, such as at the U of A, where designation is determined by FTE. For instance, grad students would remain members of the GSA until their contract exceeded a certain FTE and then they would become AUFA members (This is how it works at U of A—just as an example to look at for comparison—there are many other labour organizations to look at for suitable comparisons, but I am most familiar with the U of A’s.)

How does this work relate to pensions?
We have a better pension plan. The current CUPE pension plan is an optional private pension – the AUFA plan is not structured in the same way. Once you are over .4 FTE you are in the plan.

Although I understand that the AU Administration has not been consulted about this proposed change, do we not all share concerns about the possible financial implications (to the University) of subsuming CUPE members into AUFA? Do we know what those financial implications might be? Are there any plans to do a cost-benefit (for the University) analysis?
We do not currently have access to the University’s books, so it is hard to do an exact cost-benefit analysis for all of AU. We can look at individual cases only. Furthermore, AU has a history of using financial information for political purposes as can be seen from the deficit/surplus cycle of the last several years. Because of this, we advise members to be critical of any financial projections AU publishes on this designation question. Even the arbitrator in the salaries and benefits arbitration was critical of their financial reporting practices (This does not suggest that their books are shady, rather that the reporting is presented in ways that are geared for strategic purposes.

AU finances are a question of priorities. For example, a current outstanding grievance has four former administrators guaranteed tenured full professorships which will cost roughly 1 million a year until retirement. Contracts in fiscal year 2015-2016 cost AU 11 million dollars, many of which were for doing AUFA work, which would be cheaper if done by AUFA members. AU has also created several new director positions despite the same number of staff.

If it appeared that the will of the membership desired a move in this direction, we would speak with the admin about their views. While having a civil conversation with the admin about the possibility of a designation challenge at some point is an act of courtesy, I don’t believe that the association should be acting in any other way than that which best serves our members.

Under the CUPE collective agreement, there exists a certain nimbleness for adjusting member workloads on the basis of student registrations (increases in block allocations when needed; decreases when required). Workload amendments are much more laborious in AUFA. How would equity in tutor workloads be maintained if tutors fall under the AUFA collective agreement?
It is hard to predict at this point in our exploration how this might be achieved, but I imagine that potentially the ability to be even more flexible might occur if tutors are able to negotiate workloads and adjust them as needed, just as AUFA members do. This is a question that will require more discussion as we imagine ways in which we could make the new designation work to everyone’s advantage, and also that of the university by making better use of the subject matter expertise found within out tutor pool that is often untapped because of different contracts. I think that this also applies to the question regarding SME contracts- perhaps, if such a designation question were to go forward,  teaching loads would be negotiated yearly and adjusted to allow for course development and revision, and SME contracts would be used less.

In terms of yearly performance assessments, AUFA faculty members are currently assessed by their chairs/deans; CUPE members by their course coordinators. If CUPE members are subsumed into AUFA, will it be chairs/deans responsibility to conduct performance assessments for potentially hundreds of additional members?
This question requires further research and discussion.

It is my understanding that many of the tutors who work at AU are also employed, either full-time or part-time, outside of AU (some, at other post-secondary institutions). Although CUPE members are not required to declare or limit outside employment (even when employment at AU approaches FT [i.e., 4 blocks or .8 FTE]), the AUFA collective agreement largely prohibits employment outside of AU. In the event that CUPE members are absorbed into AUFA, how will this affect their outside working arrangements?
We are working on the assumption that most if not all tutors would continue at their current workloads, meaning that they would be part-time workers under the contract and would not be subject to the bigamy of employment conditions unless their FTE status were to change.

For CUPE members who are employed FT outside of AU (and to some extent those employed PT) does this represent a conflict of interest for membership in AUFA? What level of engagement could we expect from tutor members in AUFA (as well as in Centre and Faculty meetings) if their loyalties are divided between associations/work commitments at their "home" institutions and at AU?
I think it would be difficult and unwise to generalize, but I would imagine that, not unlike in any large labour organization, there will be a contingent of workers who are simply content to do their job and not engage in association business. Certainly, within AUFA currently, this is the case, and I’m sure it is in CUPE and other unions. I do not anticipate there being any incentive for people employed by the university to actively work against the labour organization that deals with their contract. But it is important to remember that even in AUFA now, there are part time workers not bound by the bigamy of employment, and that there are a number of people who are not actively involved. Engagement is not something we can demand, but we can certainly encourage people to stay tuned in a supportive manner, and to get involved in roles that they feel confident and comfortable assuming. As for being divided between associations at different universities, the associations that are designated CARI institutions work together on CAFA, and there is also good cooperation with institutions such as MacEwan and Mount Royal at the faculty association level. I think it would be on the association executive, and as association members to actively and constructively engage members.

How would increased membership impact quorum in situations where voting is required (in AUFA as well as in Centre and Faculty meetings)? And, since current AUFA members would be in a minority with the addition of 400-ish new members, what guarantees would current members have that their interests would be protected in AUFA and in their Centres and Faculties?
We don’t have a firm answer for this at this time, but these types of changes would be worked out at the level of bylaw changes to the association, and certainly, it would be in everyone’s best interest to ensure that all parties are represented and that groups within the association work to support one another. We have fostered good solidarity with academics and professionals to this point. Also, there are many examples of other faculty associations that represent as many as seven different groups in one association. We would be studying their by-laws to see what sort of representational mechanisms they have in place to ensure fairness and to protect minority interests.

How do we deal with vote dilution?
AUFA has behaved with solidarity without the different units turning against each other. The individual interests of different groups are more likely to be achieved with a larger, strong bargaining unit than it is with a smaller more specialized one. However, as it is in any large labour organization, solidarity building, education and dialogue are key to maintaining harmonious relations within the organization. Luckily, there are many precedents of organizations that represent large numbers with diverse interests for us to draw upon. AUFA would in no way be unique in this regard. 

Given that there will be significant time and resource implications with such a pursuit, would it not be a good idea for AUFA to have a preliminary vote at this stage to ensure that the membership is really interested in having the executives further explore and develop the idea?
The AUFA exec voted in favour of a full exploration when the issue first arose. I think that our members require as much information as possible in order to decide how to proceed on such an important matter. I don’t believe our members could make an informed decision at this point without all of the information; I certainly could not do that without more information, and the discussions we have had so far have enabled the AUFA exec to gather information in areas we may not have thought to look. I think it is much better to do a full investigation and gather as much information as possible before we vote on this issue. Let me reiterate, that the decision to investigate arises from the changes in legislation and that we may find ourselves in a situation in which this is the eventuality, whether we want it or not (ie. anyone can go to the labour board and challenge the current designation). The more information we have the better prepared we will be for the outcome, whatever that may be.

Why is AUFA pursuing this?
If we were to face a lockout under the new legislation, teaching would largely continue at AU. We would have leverage in other places, like IT, but overall our bargaining power is tied to our ability to make sure the institution stops when the work stops. With CUPE we are stronger. This means AUFA is in a better position to maintain the salary and working conditions you have when bargaining with the government. 

·  The way this legislation is written almost anyone at AU effected by the decision to have CUPE be excluded could bring forward a case that CUPE members should be designated as AUFA. This could mean that anyone doing tutor work or in the AUFA unit could do this regardless of how we feel, even the employer could do this. 

·  There are currently 50 or so people working as tutors out of province that under the current arrangement have no union but if AUFA were to take on the designation question would wind up in AUFA. We have the ability to have members outside Alberta CUPE does not with the way their certification as a union works at AU. 

·  More members means more resources for AUFA. That means better servicing, more clout in bargaining, and more resources for when we need to take something to court.


Please don’t hesitate to send your questions to
and we will add your queries to the list. Also, as we discover and have more information to share we will adjust our answers that are already posted here. We are aware that we are, in some cases, unable to provide full answers to all of these questions at this time as we are still in the process of researching and consulting.

Jolene Armstrong