AUFA Work Stoppage Planning FAQ

AUFA Work Stoppage Planning FAQ

 

Why is AUFA planning for a work stoppage?

In early 2017, Alberta changes its labour laws. One outcome is that, if collective bargaining between AUFA and the Board reaches impasse, this impasse will be resolved by a strike and/or lockout. Previously, impasse was resolved through arbitration by a neutral third party.

 

What are strikes and lockouts?

A strike is a cessation of work by employees in order to pressure the employer to agree to a set of proposals. Usually, this involves not attending the workplace but can also entail a work-to-rule campaign.

A lockout is when an employer denies its workers work (usually by restricting access to the workplace) and wages in order to pressure the workers to agree to a set of proposals.

In any dispute, workers may strike, an employer may lock out, or both.

What has to happen before there is a work stoppage?

When bargaining reaches impasse, the Labour Relations Code requires both parties to seek third-party mediation. If such mediation is unsuccessful, then one or both parties can seek authorization to call a strike or impose a lockout.

 

Before a strike can only occur, AUFA’s membership would need to authorize the strike through majority vote of the AUFA membership. Lockout action by the employer is authorized through an employer poll.

 

Once these procedural steps have been completed, either side can serve 72 hours of notice on the other of a work stoppage.

 

Additionally, the parties need to negotiate an essential services agreement (ESA) (see below) before a work stoppage can commence.

 

What is an Essential Services Agreement?

An ESA identifies job duties that, if interrupted, would pose a threat to the life, health, or safety of the public or are necessary to maintain or administer the rule of law or public security.

 

The parties must identify any such duties and reach an agreement on how to ensure these duties are maintained during a work stoppage before a work stoppage can commence.

 

AUFA consulted with its members about which duties are essential and signaled its readiness to negotiate such an agreement to the employer in November of 2017.

 

Can the parties go to arbitration instead of having a work stoppage?

Yes, if both parties agree, items in dispute can be remitted to an arbitrator.

 

Why is AUFA preparing for a work stoppage instead of arbitration?

Two reasons. First, over the past 10 years, the Board has become increasingly aggressive during collective bargaining. This raises the possibility of the employer using a lockout to force rollbacks in our collective agreement.

 

For this reason, AUFA needs to be ready to respond to a lockout while continuing to seek a fair and negotiated agreement at the bargaining table. If the employer offered to resolve matters at arbitration, the AUFA executive would consider such an offer.

 

Second, in a seeming paradox, a credible strike plan reduces the chance of a work stoppage because it tells the employer that a lockout would be a hard road for the employer. This makes a negotiated settlement more attractive to the employer.

 

What is the most likely work stoppage scenario?

AUFA believes the most likely scenario involves a so-called 24-hour lockout of AUFA members by the Board. And works like this”

 

  1. When there is a work stoppage, the existing collective agreement is terminated. So a lockout of any duration would terminate the existing agreement.

  2. The employer could then tell AUFA members to come back to work under different terms of employment (typically the employer’s last offer).

  3. This would mean AUFA members would be working de facto under the employer’s last offer.

Employers adopt this tactic to wear down worker resistance to rollbacks. The only way for workers to counter this tactic is for the union to strike as soon as there is a lockout. This allows the workers to legally remain off the job and not de facto accept the employer’s terms by returning to work.

 

What will happen during a work stoppage?

This depends somewhat upon the employer, but you can likely expect to lose physical and digital access to the workplace for the duration of the strike. You will also likely see a cessation of income and suspension of pensionable service and contributions. 

In the spring, AUFA members voted to increase their dues to develop a strike fund. This strike fund allows the union to ensure the continuation all benefits (health, dental, life) during a work stoppage by paying the premiums. The strike fund also provides $85 per calendar day (tax free) in strike pay starting on the fourth day of the work stoppage.

AUFA is currently examining how to distribute strike pay and whether it will be conditioned upon participation in strike activities.

How will AUFA continue operations during a work stoppage?

The planning committee has identified ways of communicating with and conducting votes during a work stoppage separate from AU’s infrastructure. During the early spring of 2018, AUFA will be collecting personal contact information from members to facilitate communication in the event of a work stoppage.

What will AUFA expect of members during a work stoppage?

The withdrawal of labour is a typically key source of pressure on the employer during a work stoppage. Consequently, all members will be expected to not report for or otherwise perform AU-related work during a work stoppage.

Picketing is a common tactic during work stoppages. Picketing is intended to discourage “customers” from patronizing the employer (i.e., interrupt revenue streams) and also to embarrass the employer (i.e., cause reputational harm).

AUFA’s work stoppage planning committee is currently discussing various strike activities (including picketing) that are appropriate given our dispersed workforce. The committee expects to provide the executive with a suite of options that the executive can choose among during a work stoppage.

What happens if I choose to continue working during a work stoppage?

AUFA’s work stoppage planning committee will be recommending constitutional changes to AUFA’s executive to deal with members who cross the picket line (or “scab”).

It will be up to AUFA’s executive to present any changes to the membership for discussion and ratification. Typical discipline for scabbing includes a loss of union privileges and/or public censure.

Are there circumstances that might warrant working during a stoppage?

Members who are qualified to perform essential services may be asked to work to the degree necessary to ensure those services are provided. This is something AUFA will work out with the employer.

The planning committee has also identified members on Research and Study Leave (RSL) and members with special research circumstances (e.g., grant reporting deadlines, data collection or experiments ongoing on the data of the stoppage) as warranting special consideration.

When might a work stoppage take place?

Notice to bargain to will be served this spring. The committee’s planning assumption is that a work stoppage is unlikely to occur before the end of the summer.

What are the chances of a work stoppage occurring?

On average, only 1% of collective bargaining in Alberta ends in a work stoppage each year. The Board’s recent aggressiveness, inexperience in bargaining under strike/lockout, and the opportunity that single-table bargaining presents for them to force major changes in language suggests the risk of a work stoppage is higher than average at AU.

It is difficult to quantify the likelihood for a work stoppage but the working assumption of the committee is that, with a good strike plan in place, there is a 25% chance of a work stoppage after bargaining commences.

How long will a work stoppage last?

The long-term data on work stoppages (n=50) in Canadian PSE suggests the mean duration of work stoppage is 22.5 days and 90% of strikes last less than 6 weeks.

How long a work stoppage lasts at AU will be determined by (1) the issues over which there remains a dispute and (2) the effectiveness of the pressure brought by each side on the other during a work stoppage.

A third factor affecting duration is whether and when the government intervenes to bring an end to the dispute. The recent Ontario college strike (12,000 workers, hundreds of thousands of students) lasted over five weeks before the workers were ordered back to work. AUFA does not expect the government to intervene in a work stoppage at AU.

To whom can I direct questions or comments?

AUFA’s executive director is Nick Driedger (aufahq@aufa.ca).

Questions and Answers Out of Province Tutors

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.

AUFA Wins at Arbitration

AUFA has emerged victorious from Salaries & Benefits arbitration. The most recent round of S&B bargaining ended an impasse. Under the PSLA (Post-secondary Learning Act), such impasses had to be resolved via arbitration, in a process known as final-offer selection. In final-offer selection, each party in the negotiations presents its best final offer to an arbitrator, who chooses between them. AUFA’s offer was a two-year deal, with a 2% cost-of-living increase for each of 2016–17 and 2017–18. The employer presented a three-year deal that included a freeze on annual merit increments in 2017–18 and 2018–19 and decreases to professional development allowances. Ultimately, Arbitrator Jones found the employer’s final offer to be unreasonable in comparison to settlements at other universities and colleges in Alberta and thus selected AUFA’s final offer.

AUFA President Lawton Shaw praised the AUFA Salaries & Benefits bargaining team, consisting of Geoff Loken (chair), Rachel Conroy, Nick Driedger, Jason Foster, and Terra Murray. “Our bargaining team was well prepared for bargaining, put together a compelling case for AUFA’s final offer, and won the day. AUFA members are deeply appreciative of their work. 

The arbitration decision can be found here...

 

Lawton Shaw, PhD

President, Athabasca University Faculty Association

Associate Professor (Chemistry)

Phone: 1-866-403-7429

AUFA Membership Approves Creation of Lockout / Strike Fund

AUFA membership have voted with an 87% majority to create a Lockout / Strike Fund, in response legislation changes which returns the right to strike for faculty associations. The motion came from recommendations which were presented to the AUFA membership on behalf of the Ad-hoc Lockout / Strike committee.

The following changes were approved:

  • A transfer of $200,000 from AUFA's operating surplus into a strike fund
  • A dues increase of 0.2% which will go exclusively to the strike fund

This fund will be used for strike pay, insurance, and health benefits during any work stoppage. As well, they will be used to pay into the CAUT Defense Fund, which functions as work stoppage insurance for faculty associations.

These changes leave AUFA well-prepared for future negotiations with Athabasca University, ensuring it has the organizational and financial means to negotiate the best possible contract for its members.

AUFA Respects Vegreville

AUFA strongly supports the Respect Vegreville campaign and calls upon Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government to stop plans to relocate the Vegreville Immigration Centre to Edmonton. This closure will affect roughly 280 jobs and devastate the town. Rural communities have been hit especially hard during the economic downturn in Alberta, and it is vital that there be stable public sector employment in rural Alberta.

The Respect Vegreville campaign is a social media campaign organized by the Public Service Alliance of Canada to keep the Immigration Centre in Vegreville and save rural jobs. They're asking supporters to write to Immigration Minister Ahemd Hussen, print and share the campaign poster, and share their support on social media.

Many AUFA members and executive officers are located in the town of Athabasca, and we stand by our rural community. Pictured left to right are Treasurer James Haubrich, Executive Director Nick Driedger, Vice-President Rachel Conroy, and Secretary Dave Powell, all proud Athabasca residents.