AUFA has been bargaining with the employer for 12 months and we have been without a contract for the past 10 months. After 19 days of bargaining, here is where we are:
AUFA has agreed to about 15 small contract changes;
AU is insisting upon a two-year agreement (ending June 30, 2020); and,
AUFA is prepared to accept a two-year wage freeze but seeks something in exchange for the wage-freeze.
AUFA has offered a variety of items it would accept in exchange for a wage freeze. These include contract language improvements (including creating a meaningful path to regularization for term employees), one-time payments, and a wage-re-opener.
So far, AU has not accepted these options, and indeed has ruled many of them out. AU has also not proposed any meaningful quid pro quos itself.
AUFA and AU will be meeting with a government-appointed mediator (Mia Norrie) on June 17 and 18. Informal mediation was recommended by the Labour Board and essentially is a form of facilitated bargaining.
Essential Services Agreement (ESA)
The Labour Relations Code requires that public-sector employers have an ESA in place (or have the requirement waived) before the union and employer can proceed for formal mediation and onwards to a work stoppage.
AUFA proposed a draft ESA in November to ensure counselling services and practicum instruction in the GCAP program continue to function during a work stoppage. AUFA asserts the cessation of these functions creates risk to the health, safety, and/or life of the public.
AU disputes this characterization. AU’s reluctance to agree to an ESA may reflect that the existence of an ESA bars AU from hiring replacement workers (i.e., scabs) during a work stoppage.
An umpire (Deborah Howes) has been appointed by the Labour Board to determine if an ESA is necessary and, if so, which functions would be covered by it. AUFA and AU will be making submissions to the umpire in May and June (respectively) with a hearing date tentatively set for mid-July.
Assuming informal mediation does not bring about an agreement, once the ESA question has been decided, AUFA and/or AU can apply for formal mediation. Completion of formal mediation is required before a union can take a strike vote or an employer can take a lockout poll.
Formal mediation operates much like informal mediation. The difference is in the end point. At the end of formal mediation, a mediator may make a recommendation for a settlement that both sides are required to vote upon.
If both sides accept the recommendation, than the recommendation forms a new collective agreement. If one or both sides reject the recommendation, then mediation has failed and the parties proceed towards strike/lockout.
It is difficult to know what a mediator might recommend, but looking at provincial patterns suggests most agreements entail a two-year freeze, language improvements for the union, and a wage-re-opener for at least one year. This is the deal AU signed with AUPE just recently.
Strike Vote/Lockout Poll
If formal mediation does not result in a new collective agreement, then the union can apply to hold a strike vote to seek a strike mandate. A mandate requires greater than 50% support from the members who vote. A successful strike vote is required for a union to strike.
The employer can also apply to hold a lockout poll of the Board in order to lock workers out. A successful strike vote or a lockout poll is valid for 120 days.
While a successful strike vote can precipitate a work stoppage, it often forces the employer back to the bargaining table. For example, the University of Regina had a successful vote, issued strike notice, and had a deal within 3 days.
Once a strike or lockout has been authorized, either party can give 72 hours of notice of a work stoppage.
A common employer tactic is to issue notice of a lockout and then bring workers back almost immediately. A lockout (or a strike) ends the existing collective agreement. This allows the employer to bring workers back to work under the employer’s terms (commonly the employer’s last offer).
The union’s only response to such a tactic is to issue strike notice (which allows its members to not return to work under the employer’s terms). For this reason, unions often hold a strike vote so that they can respond immediately to a lockout notice.
Is a Strike or Lockout Likely?
AU’s most recent communication (March 23) asserted that “AU believes that AUFA and AU remain close to an agreement.” On the surface, this appears to be true: only small compromises by AU would be required for an agreement.
Looking more deeply, two things suggest this statement is untrue:
AU is stalling bargaining. AU was unavailable to negotiate between February 13 and April 15,and it is again unable to negotiate between April 22 and June 17. No agreement is likely if the parties aren't talking. And AUFA and AU can't talk if AU won't come to the table.
AU is refusing to compromise. On April 22, AU categorically ruled out an agreement longer that two years or any financial payments to AUFA to offset the two zeros that AU is demanding. AU also did not advance any new positions about regularizing term staff (Article 5). No agreement is likely if AU demands two zeros but offers no offsetting improvements for AUFA members. AU’s position is particularly unreasonable in light of AU’s >$9m surplus and soaring enrolments.
What are the Next Steps?
Information picket in Edmonton: May 21 at noon.
Informal mediation: June 17 and 18.
Information picket: June 17/18 (location TBD).
ESA hearing: Tentatively June 19
ESA decision: Date unknown (autumn)
Formal mediation: Date unknown (autumn).
Strike vote: Date unknown (autumn).
Strike: Date unknown.
Who Can I Contact?
Information about bargaining: Eric Strikwerda, Chair, AUFA bargaining committee
Information about work stoppage: Bob Barnetson, Chair, AUFA work stoppage committee
Register concern about AU’s behaviour: Neil Fassina, President, AU
Bob Barnetson, Chair
AUFA Work Stoppage Committee