aufa strike

What will my boss say about a strike?

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When a work stoppage looms, a common employer tactic is for managers to try to undercut union support during one-on-one and small-group conversations.

Here are some things your boss might say and how you might respond.

Nobody wants a strike

Strikes and lockouts occur when employers and workers can't come to a mutually acceptable deal.

AUFA has offered a two-year wage freeze, small contract improvements, and additional negotiations on future wages. This is the same deal that tens of thousands of other public servants have gotten—including AU’s support staff.

AU is rejecting this pattern settlement. In effect, AU is saying it wants a strike more than it wants to give AUFA members a fair deal. 

A strike will hurt students 

If AU forces AUFA to strike, students will experience disruption in their studies and in administrative functions. A strike is also entirely avoidable if AU agrees to a fair deal. 

Everybody loses during a strike 

A strike entails costs to both AUFA members (foregone salary) and AU (work disruption). But not striking also entails costs, such as a wage freeze with no offsetting contract improvements. The costs of not striking are borne solely by AUFA members. 

But we’re like a family 

Your employer is not your family. AU hires you because they need work completed. AU is happy to watch your wages stagnate and to crank up your workload. As we saw in 2013, senior administrators will also happily lay you off when they bankrupt AU. Does that sound like a family?  

We can't afford to pay you more 

In 2018/19, AU recorded a surplus of more than $9 million. This was AU’s fifth surplus in six years. Enrollments were up more than 12% last year and are up again this year. AU can certainly afford to pay higher salaries. And AUFA is prepared to accept a wage freeze if AU will provide some offsetting contract gains. So this dispute isn't about what AU can afford to pay. It is about AU wanting to freeze your pay and give you nothing in return. 

AUFA will force you to strike 

AUFA is you and your coworkers. AUFA is also a democracy. A strike can only occur if a majority of voters vote in favour of a strike.  

A strike is also a last resort—something to be considered only after months of negotiations and mediation prove fruitless.  

In this way, a strike is something AU is forcing on AUFA members. 

The union can’t win a strike 

Unions win new collective agreements when the employer realizes the cost of a work stoppage is greater than the cost of a new contract. 

AU is highly dependent on tuition revenue (~50%). Even the threat of a strike is likely to cause enrollments to plummet. An actual strike will severely damage AU’s revenues and reputation. 

It would be a shame if AUFA was forced to threaten or to actually strike. But sometimes employers need to learn things the hard way. 

Bob Barnetson, Chair

AUFA Work Stoppage Planning Committee

 

Update: AUFA Bargaining and Strike Preparation

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Collective Bargaining

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.

Informal Mediation

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.

Formal Mediation

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.

Strike/Lock Out

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.

Link to AU’s assertion.

Looking more deeply, two things suggest this statement is untrue:

  1. 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.

  2. 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

barnetso@athabascau.ca