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”
When there is a work stoppage, the existing collective agreement is terminated. So a lockout of any duration would terminate the existing agreement.
The employer could then tell AUFA members to come back to work under different terms of employment (typically the employer’s last offer).
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org).