Dear AUFA members,
This communique concerns one of the items that will be discussed at the upcoming GM on November 29. I am looking forward to this meeting and hearing from all of you.
Recently, some of the tutors who reside out of province approached the AUFA office to ask whether or not it would be possible for them to join AUFA. As part of our due diligence, we looked into the legislative rules and legal processes that such an action would necessitate, and after significant research the AUFA executive believes that such an action would be possible. At the GM we will be presenting this issue for discussion and for a vote on whether or not AUFA should begin the process of designation for tutors who reside out of province and are currently unrepresented by any bargaining unit.
In order to facilitate the discussion, we have put together a Q & A sheet for your information. We would be happy to receive more questions, which we can add to this list. Please email AUFAhq@athasbacau.ca with any questions you would like to see added here.
Let me reiterate that a full discussion of this issue will be facilitated at the GM and that AUFA will not be proceeding on this matter until a vote of the membership has taken place.
Out of province tutors wishing to join AUFA-- Q & A:
Is this a raid?
No, the tutors that reside out of province do not belong to any bargaining unit. They are currently without representation. As sometimes happens, small groups of unrepresented workers will often seek membership in a larger union in order to better protect their working conditions.
Whose idea was this?
The out of province tutors approached AUFA. Some of their number expressed a desire on the part of tutors who reside out of province to be AUFA members. Tutors who reside outside of Alberta are not represented by any bargaining units.
Why aren’t out of province tutors represented by CUPE?
CUPE 3911 cannot legally represent out of province staff intheir bargaining until as a result of the Public Service Employment Relations Act (PSERA), which AUFA is not subject to. In the past CUPE has attempted to challenge this designation on behalf of out of province tutors and they were denied the petition to bring them into their CUPE unit. In contrast, AUFA currently represents several out-of-province members, which is legal under the Post-Secondary Learning Act, our governing legislation. It points to section 2(1)(b) of PSERA:
"CUPE Local 3911's bargaining unit with Athabasca University is governed by PSERA. The Board also noted that section 2(1)(b) of PSERA states that PSERA "does not apply to a person who is permanently employed outside of Alberta by an employer''. The Board rejected the argument that if these employees were not covered by PSERA, then they fell into the Code, and instead, decided that PSERA was the only statute relevant to the CUPE bargaining relationship."
What is the problem with not being a member of a bargaining unit?
When employees are not represented by a bargaining unit, they are vulnerable in the face of contract negotiations. For instance, when tutors in CUPE are awarded a salary increase, this increase doesn’t automatically apply to out of province tutors since their contracts are negotiated individually. This can result in pay inequities, with those out of province left with little recourse to action since they are not represented. Also, these tutors are vulnerable to workload issues (either having too little, or too much), because they do not have the benefit of the CUPE collective agreement to protect their employment interests. Further, they do not have access to association or union assistance should they find themselves in a grievance situation. Essentially, the out of province tutors are vulnerable.
How would they fit into the AUFA contract?
It is our belief that since their job at least partially overlaps with the work that AUFA academics do, that they could fit into existing articles within our contract.
Will this negatively affect current AUFA members’ contractual rights?
No. The rights of AUFA members would remain unchanged, and AUFA members would continue to do the job that they were hired to do and which is negotiated on a yearly basis.
How will this affect AUFA members who supervise out of province tutors if they are all in the same unit?
There are numerous examples of AUFA members who supervise other AUFA members. AUFA has dealt with these kinds of conflicts for a long time and has tested and reliable ways of working through these problems. The impact should be minimal and issues that arise would be dealt with in the same manner that we currently deal with issues that arise between AUFA supervisors and other AUFA members.
Does this mean that current CUPE tutors will also become AUFA members?
No, AUFA will not be pursuing a designation challenge regarding tutors currently in CUPE without further discussion and a vote from AUFA members. At present, as per previous communications from the AUFA president, we have, for the time being stepped back from that action in order to allow CUPE the opportunity to discuss their position on the issue. AUFA would not pursue this action without a vote from the membership.
The issue at hand here is focused only on tutors who approached AUFA, who are currently not represented by any bargaining unit, and have expressed a desire to join AUFA.
How many out of province tutors are there?
There are approximately 50 tutors who reside out of province.
Under what conditions would a designation of out of province tutors take place?
AUFA members would hold a vote on whether or not to pursue a designation procedure of tutors currently not represented by a bargaining unit. Should AUFA members vote in favour of such a move, the AUFA office would then approach all tutors who live out of province and set up a vote for them to see if a majority would be in favour of this action. Should AUFA members vote against this action, AUFA exec will take no further action. Should out of province tutors vote against such an action, AUFA exec will take no further action. Action will only be taken if both AUFA members and out of province tutors are in favour of such a move. If both groups are in favour, a request would need to be made to the labour board who would make a final determination on this question.
Does addressing questions of designation and membership fall outside of the purview of the Faculty Association?
Since part of a faculty association’s job is to protect and ensure that lines of designation of members remain clear, and since we are the bargaining unit for a large number of academics and professionals, and since we often enter into conversations with HR about the designation of employees as being either inside or outside of the unit ( as per the collective agreement), it seems perfectly reasonable to at least discuss the potential action of seeking direction from the membership when people approach AUFA regarding membership. Also, since strengthening bargaining power in the face of lockout/strike procedures in bargaining is now a reality for all faculty associations in Alberta, it seems like a reasonable pursuit for faculty association to at least entertain, investigate and vote upon opportunities to strengthen our unit, should they arise.
Designation of employees in bargaining units will be up for debate in 2022 when the sunset clause on designation in current units expires (our membership will no longer be legislated as it has been under the PSLA after that time). This sunset on current designation means that faculty associations will, sooner or later, have to deal with questions about who is in and out of the unit.
AUFA deals with questions of designation on a nearly daily basis in regards to posting of various positions at AU.
What would be the direct benefit of taking in 50 previously unrepresented members?
The out of province tutors are currently unrepresented by any bargaining unit, which means that they each have an individual contract with the university rather than being under a collective agreement such as AUFA and CUPE members currently are. In the event of a work stoppage, workers who do not fall under an agreement are more vulnerable to managerial pressure to take up work that locked out/striking workers have ceased to do. This is a group of people who could be compelled to scab- they could easily take up the work of academics or tutors should either of those groups face a work stoppage. If they were brought under an agreement, they would not be subject to these pressures.
What are the drawbacks of bringing in a group of workers who have previously not be represented by the contract?
They would need to be put into the collective agreement somewhere. In previous discussions about tutors, we have identified the position of Lecturer as a position that is currently unused and could work for this group. Should we seek a designation challenge for this group from the labour board, 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.
It has been suggested that bringing tutors under the collective agreement would make managing tutor workloads more difficult. This might be true, but could be managed if that is the case. Just as importantly, it is often suggested that the fact that tutors are under a different agreement causes difficulties in managing, expanding and altering workload assignments for tutors. Being under the same agreement might actually make this management easier. In any case, we are not talking about all tutors, but a small group whose workload contract is not currently subject to the CUPE collective agreement.
If AUFA members and out of province tutors both vote yes in a vote, does that make designation a done deal?
No. The labour board has sole and final discretionary power over this decision. The labour board could still turn down a designation request despite the wishes of bargaining units to challenge designation.
If AUFA votes no, or the out of tutors vote no at this time, would this end the discussion?
For the time being, yes. However, I think it is important, given the changing labour landscape and the fact there is a sunset clause on current designation in 2022, that if new information comes to light, or circumstances change that this question can be revisited as needed.
What are the financial implications for pension benefits?
Pension contributions are calculated on FTE basis; a number of part time instructors do not work enough FTE to qualify to pay into a pension fund.
What happens if a tutor belongs to another union at another institution? Would this impact their ability to belong to AUFA.
No. As part time employees, who likely have part time work elsewhere, membership in another bargaining unit at another institution wouldn’t have any impact on their membership here.
How would tutors fit into an AUFA contract given that the university’s expectations for their job are vastly different than most academic?
In a previous examination of this question, AUFA looked at the currently unused category of Lecturer in the AUFA collective agreement. Since it is not currently defined, it could be used for the tutors, thereby maintaining their permanent (tutors are permanent after their probationary period), part-time status that would not specifically include an expectation for research or service (although many tutors are also active researchers). We would want them to fit into our contract and do essentially the same work that they do now. It is possible that some of this would have to be negotiated or signed in an MOA with the employer.