On January 18, 2021, the University of Lethbridge Board Negotiating Team (Board Team) for the Academic Staff Collective Agreement (ASCA) met with the University of Lethbridge Faculty Association (ULFA) ASCA Negotiating Team (ULFA Team). At that meeting both parties shared opening proposals.
In the proposal document shared with ULFA, the Board outlined seven interests in this round of bargaining:
- Ensure the collective agreement fosters equity, diversity and inclusion.
- Clarify language so that entitlements, practices and processes are articulated with a view to increasing understanding, and to increasing the simplicity, consistency and accuracy of application.
- Cultivate a positive working environment between the parties, as well as with other employee groups on campus.
- Position the University, both now and in the future, to attract and retain talented academic staff, as well as to manage the size and composition of the academic workforce.
- Ensure the Board can define and accomplish the work that needs to be done and has flexible and responsive rules to navigate ever-changing operations and environmental factors.
- Ensure the financial costs of the collective agreement are sustainable and in alignment with the financial reality of the University.
- Ensure the application of the collective agreement is consistent, reasonable and feasible given the administrative resources, processes and systems of the University.
The foregoing collective bargaining interests are adopted against the current economic downturn that has negatively affected our province, and specifically, southern Alberta. Last month, it was reported that the Lethbridge-Medicine Hat region finished 2020 with the highest unemployment rate in the province at 10.5 per cent, up from four per cent the year before. Alberta is grappling with historic deficit and debt levels and major constraints on public sector spending, including substantial expenditure reductions to post-secondary education.
The U of L, and institutions across Alberta, are facing enormous budget challenges, which have been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. For the 2020/21 fiscal year, the U of L’s overall provincial government funding was reduced by 6.62 per cent ($6.7 million), which included reductions to the base grant for operations and other grant programs. This reduction was in addition to the 3.16 per cent ($3.4 million) operating grant reduction the U of L experienced in the 2019/20. Over the past two budgets, the U of L has experienced a cut of 9.8 per cent in provincial grant funding ($10.5 million). The Government of Alberta has publicly notified additional cuts to Alberta’s post-secondary sector over the next two fiscal years, with further operating grant cuts to the U of L of $10 million.
In short, the University’s operating grant will be cut by 20 per cent over four fiscal years. To ensure the University is able to meet its mandate in this unbelievably challenging landscape, while ensuring the University is able to remain accessible and of high-quality for the students and communities it serves, adjustments will be required across all areas of our institution. Faculty salaries account for 53 per cent of total compensation paid at the U of L and total salaries and benefits account for 81.5 per cent of the total general operating funds. The Board Team is asking for ULFA to accept a four per cent decrease in salary in the first year of a four-year agreement (0 per cent in years two through four) in line with these budget realties. Alternatively, ULFA is proposing an increase of six per cent to salary scales in both years of a two-year agreement, additional increases in the value of career progress and merit adjustments, plus further increases in non-salary benefits.
While Alberta’s fiscal environment may lead to challenging bargaining, there are opportunities for our University to make progress in some very important areas. For example, both the Board and ULFA have articulated a desire to ensure the collective agreement enhances and clarifies provisions that foster equity, diversity and inclusion. As part of the 2018-20 Academic Staff Collective Agreement, a Joint Equity Committee was established to promote “diversity, equity and inclusion in the Academic Staff complement employed at the University.” The work of this committee over the past year will help inform future discussions at the negotiating table.
Regardless of the current landscape within which we are operating, the Board will continue to prioritize cultivating a positive work environment with ULFA and indeed, all employee groups on campus. The Board Team will negotiate with the ULFA Team in good faith with the goal of arriving at a mutually-acceptable agreement that positions the University for success now, and in the future.
The Board and ULFA Teams are scheduled to next meet on January 28, 2021.