ULSU/ULFA/UofL Collective Bargaining FAQ

Due to an influx of student emails and concerns the University of Lethbridge Students Union (ULSU) has received following the November 17th University of Lethbridge Faculty Association (ULFA) rally, the ULSU thought it pertinent to construct an FAQ about the current situation at the University of Lethbridge. This FAQ is a means of notifying our membership and illuminating to students: where the collective bargaining process is currently at, what led to the current situation, what the implications of a strike or lockout are for students, and ultimately what the ULSU would do in this situation to prioritize student needs. The last section of this Q&A covers resources and information to help students get involved in the post-secondary issues that the U of L is facing.

The collective agreement between the U of L Board of Governors (Employer) and ULFA (Employees) expired on June 30th, 2020. The wanton funding cuts from the government of Alberta have had massive ripple effects on students, staff, and faculty– no one is safe from these cuts and we are all feeling these reductions in deep and unpleasant ways; including but not limited to staff layoffs, reduced course offerings, diminished student support services. We respect the employee and employer rights that the Board of Governors and ULFA are entitled to, however, we encourage both parties to remember the student experience has been foundational to the University of Lethbridge’s creation and continued success. We ask that the Board of Governors and the Faculty Association, not forget students are at the core of this institution financially and academically, and any decisions made must preserve that fundamental truth.

If you have any questions that we have not answered here or have input for the ULSU about these matters, please reach out to ULSU President, Holly Kletke, at su.president@uleth.ca

Frequently Asked Questions:

Why is the U of L (Board of Governors) and the Academic Staff (ULFA) going through collective bargaining negotiations?

The Faculty Association is a labour union with a collective agreement, which dictates the employment parameters between employee and employer. When the previous collective agreement expires, there is a notice to bargain, and employee and employer assemble negotiation teams to bargain new terms on the collective agreement. The previous agreement will remain in effect while negotiations occur.

The collective agreement between the University of Lethbridge Faculty Association and the University of Lethbridge expired June 30, 2020, and employees and employer have been negotiating since then. As of October 28th, the Board negotiating team requested informal mediation precisely because it wants to work productively with the Faculty Association to reach an agreement that is mutually acceptable to the Board and ULFA and that enables the shared commitment of both parties to serve students, our communities, local and regional economies, and society as a whole. 

Informal mediation is an established, positive and constructive labour relations tool, which supports both parties in the collective bargaining process. Further, informal mediation allows the parties to retain control over the decision-making process and it assists the parties in amicably reaching mutually acceptable agreements.

As of November 24, one article in the collective agreement has officially been agreed upon.

Why is the post-secondary sector so underfunded at the moment? What impact does this have on the U of L? Why are faculty facing salary cuts?

Unprecedented cuts and reductions in funding from the provincial government have created in-year funding reductions in prior years and anticipated cuts for future years, The UofL is a publicly-funded institution and relies on operating grants from the Government of Alberta. By the end of 2022/23, the Government of Alberta’s annual operating support for the University will have been reduced by over 21 percent since 2019/20 (over $21 million) The ULSU has been advocating at the university and government level for the past two years to ensure that these cuts do not result in the loss of quality in education. This financial reality means funds now need to be found in the U of L’s operating budget to make up for these cuts from the provincial government– in short, this means reducing operational expenses and or increasing revenues. The university administration is pursuing a multitude of financial solutions to this issue. One impact you might’ve experienced as a budget solution would be rising tuition costs. Another solution would be the current faculty restructuring discussions and how we restructure faculty in the hopes of finding cost savings. A -4% wage rollback for faculty is another proposed solution. If approved, faculty will be required to pay 4% of their paychecks to the University retroactive to July 2020. 

To provide further context to faculty compensation, the U of L faculty are paid 10-15% less than faculty members at our comparator universities. Further cuts will pose serious challenges for the recruitment and retention of high-quality instructors. These cuts will hurt students. They will lead to larger class sizes, fewer student research opportunities, and fewer opportunities to get to know instructors or participate in experiential learning activities.

There are many more proposed recommendations following a lengthy consultation process over the 2020/2021 academic year and we urge you to read them here: https://www.ulethbridge.ca/sites/default/files/2021/09/task_force_2022-23_pres_exec_budget_recommendations_sept_10-21_final.pdf

To see the UofL budget, including allocation of revenue such as salaries, visit this page: https://www.ulethbridge.ca/planning-and-reporting/budget

What is the difference between a strike and a rally? What is a lockout? Why was there a rally on campus?

A strike includes a cessation of work, a refusal to work, or a refusal to continue to work, by two or more employees for the purpose of compelling the employer to agree to terms or conditions of employment. 
Alberta Labour Relations Board

A lockout includes the closing of a place of employment by an employer, the suspension of work by an employer, or a refusal by an employer to continue to employ employees for the purpose of compelling employees to agree to terms of conditions of employment.
Alberta Labour Relations Board

Strikes and lockouts are legitimate and legal tools that negotiators, i.e. employer & employee, can exercise to put pressure on the other party to agree to the terms presented.

A rally is a mass meeting of people making a political protest or showing support for a cause. 

The University of Lethbridge Faculty Association held a peaceful rally on November 17 to raise awareness about the damaging cuts to post-secondary education, concerning issues currently under negotiation, and their negative impacts for the Lethbridge community.
University of Lethbridge Faculty Association

The ULSU has appointed seats on the Board of Governors, why aren’t they helping to negotiate?

The ULSU has two seats on the Board of Governors (President & VP Operations and Finance) as mandated by the Post Secondary Learning Act. However, the collective bargaining process happens through the parlay between the Board’s (employer) and ULFA’s (the labour union) negotiating teams. The ULSU is not permitted to interfere with official negotiation processes. The ULSU receives the same updates that the public receives about collective bargaining as this is a very private process in order to ensure good faith negotiations between both parties that are free from external/public influence.

What is the ULSU’s stance during the collective bargaining process?

The ULSU recognizes the detrimental effects that large-scale changes such as faculty re-structuring or salary rollbacks have on the quality of education at the UofL. The ULSU also understands the Board needs to make financial decisions based on their fiduciary obligations to ensure the school is not operating in a deficit. Being mindful of both these points, we have been keeping an eye on this situation since the chatter about wage rollbacks in summer 2021, and we will continue to monitor the bargaining updates closely. We have been advocating tirelessly for the needs and priorities of students at the appropriate tables and will continue to do so. We urge both sides of the negotiating table to remember the silent third-party not present in the room; the students. 

For continued updates, we have listed resources below and encourage students to stay tuned as the situation progresses.

What will the ULSU do in the event of a strike initiated by the faculty, or a lockout declared by the board of governors?

The ULSU can not predict the likelihood of a strike or lockout, what we can anticipate is that this type of action would disrupt the learning of students to some extent. The ULSU is committed to ensuring that, in the event of a strike or lockout, student support services will remain accessible and that disruptions to learning are as minimal as possible. We want to reassure students, we will, as always, continue to advocate for their needs and whether this is in a strike scenario or during the collective bargaining process. In the event of a strike or lockout, we will be in talks with relevant decision-makers (U of L administration, the Government of Alberta, and ULFA) to ensure students get back into the classroom by any means necessary. If you have any input as to what services the ULSU could provide during a faculty strike or lockout by the board of governors, please email Rebecca Parkkari at su.academic@uleth.ca.

What can I do to be an active student citizen?

Collective bargaining between the U of L and ULFA are exacerbated because of the provincial budget cuts we are all facing. This is a multifaceted problem, directly stemming from the defunding of the post secondary sector in Alberta. Here’s what you can do to be an active student at the U of L and, broken down by topic.

Collective Bargaining:
UofL Updates: Board Highlights 21% Provincial Cuts to U of L; Commits to continue to bargain in good faith
ULFA Updates: https://www.ulfa.ca/

Faculty Restructuring:
Student Townhall December 13 at 1 pm via Zoom, https://uleth.zoom.us/j/97747308446

Tuition hikes and other issues within the post-secondary sector: 
CAUS Priorities, https://www.caus.net/priorities

Be engaged in the democratic process:
Get engaged with the ULSU:
  • Run in the general election for the ULSU in order to steer the advocacy efforts of the next General Assembly of the ULSU.
  • Attend General Assembly meetings as a guest. The meeting schedule can be found at ulsu.ca. December meeting is at 5 pm on December 8th, 2021.
  • Keep an eye out on Facebook (@UofLSU) and Instagram (@ulethsu)
Relevant resources: