University of Lethbridge cancels move to delay strike, says 'progress' made in negotiations

The University of Lethbridge has cancelled a move to delay an impending faculty strike this week, saying progress is being made between faculty and administration.

Faculty association president confirms negotiations proceeding

University of Lethbridge classes could cease by Thursday at 11 a.m. if no agreement is reached. (Michael Warf)

The University of Lethbridge has cancelled a move to delay an impending faculty strike this week, saying progress is being made between faculty and administration.

The University of Lethbridge Faculty Association voted last week in favour of a strike at the southern Alberta institution. It filed 72-hour strike notice on Monday.

That same day, university administration filed to the Alberta Labour Relations Board to have the strike delayed and for a lockout on campus.

In a statement Monday, the university said it had "submitted an urgent interim application" to delay strike action until the labour relations board deals with the "bad faith" bargaining complaint filed against the faculty association last week. It also applied for a campus lockout for all faculty members. 

But by that evening, the university had cancelled its request for a delay. 

"The university withdrew an application before the [labour relations board] in recognition of progress made at the bargaining table with the ULFA yesterday," the university said in a statement Tuesday.

"We continue to be hopeful to avoid the onset of a faculty association strike this week."

On Tuesday, the president of the faculty association said he's unsure when the bad faith filing hearing by the labour board will happen. He previously said the labour board is collecting evidence and commentary on the bad faith filling.

In the meantime, Dan O'Donnell said he is pleased to see contract negotiations proceed.

"I think where it really counts, at the table, the teams are meeting, they seem to be talking reasonably well," said O'Donnell.

"That's where the progress is going to happen, not with the games that lawyers play."

The university said in its Tuesday statement it has labour board approval to move forward with a lockout but that it hopes "to avoid that outcome."

"We're looking for resolution without any interruption to student learning."

If no settlement can be reached with administration, the strike will begin this Thursday at 11 a.m. In that event, a lockout by administration would then follow exactly 24 hours later.

Negotiations so far

University administration and faculty have not been able to reach an agreement after the faculty's collective agreement expired on June 30, 2020, nearly 600 days ago.

On Jan. 17, mediation broke down and entered a two-week cooling-off period before the strike vote was taken. Over two days last week, the faculty association took a vote, under the supervision of the labour relations board.

On Monday, the labour relations board confirmed that 92 per cent of the faculty who participated in the vote supported job action. About 500 members, or 87 per cent, took part.

Later that day, the faculty association gave strike notice, which must be delivered a minimum of 72 hours prior to beginning a strike.

Compensation, salary and more representation of faculty on decision-making committees involving matters like budget and faculty benefits are key features of the negotiations, Joy Morris, a professor on the faculty negotiation team, previously told CBC news.

Faculty say they earn up to 17 per cent less than faculty at comparable universities.

The university called the faculty association's salary demands "out of touch" in its Monday statement.

"ULFA's repeated demand for double-digit percentage salary increases — nearly three times greater than those already accepted by nurses and public sector workers, and after both sides had negotiated to within a 1% salary gap — is out of touch with today's economic and workplace realities."

University faculty and administration met again Tuesday to negotiate.


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