Students and faculty at Mount Royal University and the University of Lethbridge are concerned about possible strikes after bargaining reached an impasse at both universities.
Presidents of faculty associations at both universities say that strikes are possible if new collective agreements cannot be negotiated with their respective schools.
Faculty members at both universities have been without a contract for almost two years. Faculty members at the University of Lethbridge have been without a contract for almost 600 days.
Lee Easton, president of the Mount Royal University Faculty Association (MRFA), said faculty have been bargaining for a new collective agreement for over two years. He said the union is primarily concerned about labour and pay, especially because of the rising rate of inflation.
The union engaged in a formal mediation process with the university’s board of governors on Monday and Tuesday to help reach an agreement.
“In our last collective agreement, we agreed to zero wage increases. Now it’s been four years when there have been no wage increases for faculty, and it’s becoming an increasingly pressing issue because the rate of inflation has been escalating quite a bit in the last few months,” said Easton.
Faculty members at MRU are also concerned about the workload, especially during the pandemic. According to Easton, many faculty members were given extra classes when the university switched to remote learning at the start of the pandemic, a change that is particularly onerous for contract faculty.
“Those individuals were shifting their courses online without any recognition of the time and work that was entailed in doing that,” he said.
Mount Royal University said it is hopeful that it will reach a settlement with the MRFA.
“The board of governors of Mount Royal University is in active negotiations to reach a new collective agreement with the Mount Royal Faculty Association. Mediation continues. We are hopeful that we will reach a settlement, so we can continue to provide our students with an exceptional learning experience,” wrote the university in an emailed statement.
Meanwhile, University of Lethbridge Faculty Association (ULFA) president Dan O’Donnell said he is frustrated at the university’s alleged lack of action throughout the bargaining process.
The association and the university are currently in a two-week “cooling off” period after formal mediation dissolved last Tuesday. After the cooling off period, the association can apply for a strike vote under the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB).
Similarly, the University of Lethbridge can apply to the ALRB to lock faculty members out of their workplace.
O’Donnell said the school refused to bring any proposals to the bargaining table.
“We were unable to negotiate with them in the summer because everytime we set up an appointment, they canceled it. The same thing happened with mediation. There were only nine sessions of mediation despite us offering a lot more time,” said O’Donnell.
O’Donnell also accused the school of ignoring union concerns throughout the pandemic. According to O’Donnell, contract faculty members received little to no financial support from the university while transitioning to online learning at the start of the pandemic.
Faculty members were also not given a voice when it comes to major decisions such as university restructuring and how their classes can be taught online.
“We haven’t had a seat on the budget committee for 10 years, and we are given very little say into the massive restructuring that is going on. We’re just not being treated with the respect that you would expect, especially since we’ve given so much to this institution,” said O’Donnell.
The University of Lethbridge denied O’Donnells claims, saying it is always ready and willing to meet with the ULFA.
“At no time has the University bargaining team indicated anything but enthusiastic support for continued good faith negotiations and we hope we can avoid any labour disruption. Working collaboratively toward a fair and equitable collective agreement that enables the University to serve students and communities, and supports local and regional economies, is our top priority,” said the university in an emailed statement.
Student associations at both universities expressed concern over possible learning disruptions as a result of the impasse.
Representatives of the Students’ Association of Mount Royal University (SAMRU) signed a coalition statement of support on Monday urging the MRFA and MRU to reach an agreement.
“(The Representation Executive Council) encourage both MRU and the MRFA to work things out so students aren’t negatively affected by an impasse, and to especially keep in mind the extraordinary academic and mental challenges students have faced since March 2020,” said SAMRU communications director Brendan Correia.
The University of Lethbridge Student’s Union (ULSU) expressed similar sentiments.
“We urge both sides of the negotiating table to remember the silent third-party not present in the room; the students,” read an announcement on the ULSU website.