Bargaining Update: It’s all on the table
The ULGSA Bargaining Team held its sixth bargaining session with the University of Lethbridge on January 10th-12th. As we reported during our last bargaining session, the union had agreed to table its monetary demands for this session in the hopes of reaching an agreement. By the end of the first day, we presented our demands.
Although the union was prepared to table its monetary demands at the beginning of the bargaining session, the session began with the University providing a counter on an outstanding article from the last session: Appointments and Assignment of Duties. After receiving the Employer’s proposal, the Union team decided to respond by assembling all outstanding proposals into a single package with the union’s monetary demands. The “Full Pass” package is included with this bargaining update for the members to review (see attached).
The team has already discussed its of the non-monetary proposals in previous updates, so we’ll focus here on the monetary demands. Of particular note is the proposed market adjustment of 29% to wages in the first year of the agreement. Our analysis shows that our members are earning 29% below the average hourly rate of our comparators, Graduate Assistants at the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta. While the team understood in tabling such a demand that the university would be unlikely to agree, the team’s position was that we needed to begin the process of making up the difference this round. For subsequent years, the team proposed increases pegged to the Alberta inflation rate and projected inflation.
Other monetary proposals include the following:
- a fund for servicing the collective agreement: this kind of fund is a sector norm, and it allows the union to compensate executive and committee members for the service they provide to the members, ensuring stability within the union
- a proposal to include union members in the University’s Employee and Family Assistance Plan (EFAP)
- a GA fund to be administered by the union to help members in need
- a Travel fund to be administered by the union to support members who wish to attend academic conferences
- a letter of understanding regarding the reimbursement of expenses incurred by members while working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic
- a proposal to include union members in the University’s Employee and Family Assistance Plan (EFAP), broadening access to mental health care for Graduate Assistants
By the end of the day on January 11th, the Employer returned with a disappointing response. They rejected any market adjustment and proposed increases consistent with the provincial pattern for Alberta universities (1.25% in fourth year, and 1.5% in the fifth year with the possibility of another 0.5% if the Alberta economy performs well), but one where increases wouldn’t start until May of 2023. As members will know, the ULGSA agreement expired in May of 2020. Were we to accept the University’s proposal it would mean that our members will have received no increases for the first three years of the agreement, a time when many have worked very hard to support the academy during the difficult years of the pandemic.
The response wasn’t much better where the Union’s other financial proposals were concerned. The University rejected the proposals for a GA fund, a Travel fund, and reimbursement for expenses incurred while working remotely during the pandemic. They were unable to respond to union proposals on a fund for servicing the collective agreement or member inclusion in the EFAP.
While there remained some significant differences on non-monetary issues, particularly on the issue of academic freedom, there was some positive movement on other issues.
After considering the Employer’s full pass response at length, the Union team ultimately felt that we could not respond until we had received the University’s response on the fund for servicing the agreement and member inclusion in the EFAP. The University indicated that they would have responses on those proposals by the next bargaining session, scheduled for February 21-23.
While we hope to reach a fair agreement during that session, this is also the time to prepare for the possibility that we might have to put more pressure on the University to achieve that deal.
We will provide another update in February.
As always, you are our strength at the table.
Your Graduate Student Employee Bargaining Team
Rachel Stark (PSAC Representative)
Silja Freitag (PSAC Researcher)
John Eustace (PSAC Negotiator)