Last week, the AUFA bargaining team (Alexa DeGagne, Bangaly Kaba, Eric Strikwerda, Jason Foster, Nick Driedger, and Serena Henderson) touched down in Athabasca for a rigorous two-day bargaining training and simulation exercise. The CAUT-organized simulation afforded the AUFA team a critical opportunity to bargain together (and against an “employer”) in anticipation of our upcoming actual bargaining round this spring. We were joined at the table by AUFA president Jolene Armstrong.
In the end, we were able to achieve an agreement that met the union’s objective (wage increases and greater job security, particularly for precarious staff) while resisting many of the employer’s demands (it’s worth noting that the employer team also met their its core objectives).
There were several useful lessons for the bargaining team in the simulation:
Caucus chair: In the past, the chief spokesperson has also chaired the internal discussions of the bargaining team. We experimented with splitting these roles to reduce the cognitive load on the chief spokesperson. This resulted in more focused internal discussions and crisper exchanges at the table with the employer.
Paperwork: The simulation compressed several months of bargaining into one and a half days. The resulting paperwork quickly became difficult to manage, and underscored the importance of thorough and meticulous filing practices at the table.
Tone: We continued to adopt a very measured tone in our interactions with the employer. In the spirit of “moving things along,” the employer side acted more reasonably than we have seen Athabasca University’s bargaining team act in the past (e.g., no one threatened to lay the union bargaining team off, or came to our caucus room to yell at us).
The result was a more productive round of bargaining than we have seen in the past because we were able to establish a degree of trust with the employer. This change highlighted for the AUFA team just how poorly AU has behaved at the table during recent rounds and how this behaviour negatively affects progress.
Power: While the union side’s simulation materials made clear it had a strike mandate, it was not a strong one. This meant that the employer’s side was able to easily dismiss many of the union side’s proposals outright. In the end, the union was successful in achieving only those proposals where we could either arrange a trade with the employer or where we had a legitimate strike threat.
This experience reinforces AUFA’s experience at the table last round. During the last round, we were able to resist the employer’s aggressive demands because we were able to mobilize a strike threat. (Ironically, it was the employer’s outsized demands that caused the development of a credible strike threat in the first place). The key takeaway, both from the simulation exercise and our actual experience at the table last bargaining round, is this: a credible and clear strike threat in support of AUFA proposals is crucial to AUFA’s ability to make progress at the table.
Developing a proposal with strong member buy-in, then, is central to bargaining preparation. In the coming weeks and months, the AUFA membership engagement committee will reach out to our membership to formulate our proposals in anticipation of our next bargaining round. The current labour relations climate in Alberta, as you know, is not a warm one. It may well be necessary to take job action in order to reach a mutually acceptable settlement during the upcoming round.
The bargaining team extends thanks to Jeff McKeil (CAUT) for facilitating the session, and Brenda Skayman (AUFA) for organizing the logistics of the day. We’d also like to thank the “employer” team (Bob Barnetson, Dave Powell, Florene Ympa, Gail Leicht, and Myreene Tobin) for playing hard, but politely.
Eric Strikwerda, Chair
AUFA bargaining team