Is Athabasca University Prepared for a Work Stoppage?

With the risk of a work stoppage ongoing, a number of AUFA members have raised important questions about how a work stoppage would work in practice.

The work stoppage planning committee pooled these questions and posed them to Alain May (head of AU’s bargaining team) and Charlene Polege (AU’s Director of HR).

The questions we asked were:

  1. Will AU be limiting or disabling AUFA members’ access to AU’s email systems during a work stoppage? This has implications for ongoing research and disciplinary service work.

  2. How will AU handle ARL, PD and vacation leaves that are underway when a work stoppage commences? Will the leaves be suspended for the duration of a work stoppage and then resumed once the work stoppage ends?

  3. AUFA members often book conference attendance months in advance. If an AUFA member is booked to attend a conference during a work stoppage, will AU reimburse expenses associated with conference attendance (which will mostly be incurred regardless of whether or not the member attends) from PD, APDF, and research grant funds?

  4. How will AU handle AUFA members on causal sick leave (of up to six months) during a work stoppage? Specifically, will AU continue their salaries or suspend such payments?

  5. How will AU handle AUFA members on Research and Study Leave (i.e., sabbatical)? Will such members (some of whom will be overseas) have their pay suspended? Will sabbatical be suspended and extended based upon the length of the dispute?

  6. How will the AU handle AUFA members on term contracts? Will their terms be suspended and extended (which may make sense if they are covering leaves that will also be extended)? Or will their contracts be terminated? Will term members who are CUPE members who are temporarily in AUFA revert back to CUPE appointments during an AUFA work stoppage?

  7. Approximately 200 AUFA members work from home offices and privately pay for telephone and internet access required for their job (for which they receive a stipend). Will AU continue to pay for these services during a work stoppage? If not and, consequently, AUFA members disconnect these services, will AU pay for reconnection fees (plus knock-on costs like new business cards, new letters to students)?

  8. Many AUFA members have possession of AU computers. Will AU ask that members return computers to AU for the duration of the work stoppage? Will AU attempt to remotely limit the operation of these computers (which, again, has significant implications for research and external service activity)?

  9. Some AU programs have practicum (or clinical) components where AUFA members teach and supervise students in a professional setting but that do not appear to meet the definition of an essential service (I’m specifically thinking about undergraduate nursing practicums). How will AU handle such practicums when notice of a work stoppage is served? Will the practicum be suspended and resumed? Or simply discontinued? I would expect that students would also want to know the answer to this question.

  10. AU has certain contractual obligations (e.g., to supply data to third parties) associated with grants. How will AU meet these requirements during a work stoppage? If AU cannot meet these requirements, will AU be alerting third parties to the disruption?

Polege’s response (in its entirety) was:

Thank you for your email. At this time in the bargaining process we are focusing our energy on finding creative solutions that will result in a collective agreement.  If and when there is a strike, we will share information that we deem appropriate within the 72 hour notice period.


One explanation for this unsatisfactory response is that AU hasn’t put its mind to how a work stoppage would actually work. An alternate explanation is that AU is withholding this information as a form of leverage. And, of course, both of these things could be true.

Since AU does not seem prepared to address these questions, the work stoppage committee recommends you email any questions you have to your supervisor, cc’ing Polege.

Bob Barnetson, Chair

Work Stoppage Planning Committee