Bargaining Update 2
The SAFA Executive and Negotiations Committee have made a commitment to SAFA members to keep you informed of our progress as we negotiate the renewal of our collective agreement. It’s my intention to deliver a “bargaining update” after every session of bargaining. In the update, I’ll try to paint, in broad strokes, the flavour of the meeting and the topics discussed. However, I won’t go into specific details or a “blow by blow” analysis (sorry for the pun).
The bargaining teams’ goal is to negotiate a renewed Collective Agreement and to sign a Memorandum of Agreement for ratification by you, the Membership of the Association. Our intention and desire is a mutually beneficial Collective Agreement will be reached in a timely manner at the bargaining table.
Welcome to our second update on negotiations for the renewal of the SAFA collective agreement expiring on June 30, 2017. On Thursday, April 6 your negotiations committee met with SAIT’s negotiations committee hoping for some clarification of SAIT’s proposal. If there is a phrase that best describes the feelings of your Negotiations Committee following this most recent bargaining meeting, I think it would be:
Quite literally, as we were walking into the bargaining meeting, the Provincial Government introduced legislation in the form of BILL 7 – AN ACT TO ENHANCE POST-SECONDARY ACADEMIC BARGAINING that will fundamentally change our bargaining process effective immediately.
In the fall of 2015, the Government of Alberta consulted on changes to the labour relations model for faculty members and graduate students at Alberta’s public post-secondary institutions. This past fall – 2016 – Advanced Education launched the next phase of the labour relations consultation in order to determine the most effective post-secondary labour relations model. Following the consultation process, recommendations were submitted to the Government. The bulk of those recommendations were included in the new legislation (Bill 7). When enacted, this legislation will form the framework for labour relations in the post-secondary education sector in Alberta.
The points that are of particular importance to SAFA members are: the designation powers of the Board of Governors, managerial exclusions / inclusions and the provision of strike / lockout as the default resolution process to settle collective bargaining disputes.
I’ll start with the biggest change first:
Strike / Lockout. Our current collective agreement has provisions for binding arbitration. Until now, SAFA could not go on strike nor could SAIT lock us out in the event that we came to an impasse at the bargaining table. Until now.
Now, as expected, the new legislation eliminates binding arbitration as a method of dispute resolution. Instead, Academic Staff Associations (SAFA) will be able to go on strike and the Institution (SAIT) will be permitted to “lock out” their employees. Any strike or “lock out” would be subject to the process and restrictions clearly set out in the Alberta Labour Relations Code. There is a provision that would allow SAIT and SAFA through mutual agreement to voluntary binding arbitration or to re-negotiate binding arbitration as our default dispute resolution process.
Designation powers of the Board of Governors and management inclusions / exclusions. The SAIT Board of Governors will retain their authority to designate who is an Academic Staff Member – therefore a member of SAFA – and who is not. But there are important changes – both of which SAFA asked for during the consultation process.
- Consultation will now be required by legislation before any appointment to Academic Staff as well as any change in designation. Right now, I don’t know what that “consultation” will look like except to say that it will need to be substantive and meaningful. I suspect this consultation will have far reaching impact.
- Designation decisions will be subject to review by the Alberta Labour Relations Board. This has far reaching consequences for SAIT and SAFA. As you may know, we’ve had a long standing dispute when it comes to excluding fee for service contract workers and Academic Chairs from being covered by the collective agreement – effectively taking rights away from these two groups of employees. Now, any person or Faculty Association affected by a designation, failure to be designated or change of designation will be able to apply to the Alberta Labour Relations Board for a determination about who is an Academic Staff Member. Not only on a “go forward” basis but also any designation, failure to designate or change in designation decisions prior to this new legislation will be subject to review without any retroactive time restrictions. The Labour Boards’ decision will be final and binding.
Academic Staff Members will continue to be excluded from the provisions contained in the Alberta Employment Standards Act. This means that rules around hours of work, overtime, vacation entitlement and many other employment conditions are only as stated within the SAFA collective agreement.
And now to the actual bargaining meeting we had with SAIT’s negotiations team on last Thursday.
SAITs’ initial proposal did not contain any monetary discussion and, so far, SAIT has not brought a monetary proposal to the table. However, I’ve been assured that SAIT will shortly be in a position to do so and I expect to see something by our next scheduled negotiations meeting on April 27.
As noted in my previous bargaining update, SAITs’ proposal identified several topics for discussion during this round of bargaining: four for five leave, Employee benefits, casual illness, attendance, return to work, modified duties, GSL, LTD, rehire retirees, performance review and workload. As well as several items that I would describe as “housekeeping” to correct typos / grammar and to ensure that the collective agreement is consistent with practice.
Prior to last Thursday’s bargaining meeting, we had asked SAIT to be prepared to give clarification around several of the topics they had identified in their initial proposal. Much of this meeting was given over to SAIT’s negotiations team providing a measure of clarity and answering any questions that we put to them. SAIT has also made a commitment to share any data that we feel we need in order to analyze their proposal.
Not surprisingly, the phrases “cost containment” and “workforce flexibility” were mentioned several times. This was as expected, but there were also several areas where I think both sides have a mutual interest that can be successfully accomplished at the bargaining table. Such as modernizing our health benefits to better fit the demographics of our Academic Staff, providing for on-going monitoring of the health benefits to ensure they continue to meet employees’ needs, discussion regarding how we can work together to ensure a successful return to work after illness or injury, etc.
I’m still optimistic that we can successfully conclude our negotiations at the bargaining table. But, having said that, I’m also realistic enough to realize we are unlikely to conclude negotiations before the end of the academic year – given the lengthy list of issues both sides have brought to the table for discussion. Especially as the changes to our Labour Relations model – as discussed above – will have significant impact on several sections of the collective agreement. Not mention we’ll now have to negotiate an “Essential Services” agreement as well.
As always, please feel free to stop by the SAFA office N201 in the Burns Building or contact me directly – ext 4067 – or via e-mail email@example.com if you have any questions.