Formal mediation conducted last week has failed between the University of Lethbridge and union members, raising the potential of another strike vote.
AUPE (Alberta Union of Provincial Employees) Local #053 — which represents approximately 500 workers in areas such as caretaking, IT, sports and recreation and other areas of support services — has been in talks for a new collective bargaining agreement with their employer since October 2020.
The U of L said discussions with the union members leading up to mediation on Nov. 24 and Nov. 25 were “productive and positive,” but there are still several areas of disagreement between the two parties.
Following the failed mediation, the two sides have entered a 14-day cooling off period. After that, the union members could initiate a strike vote.
In February, a lockout and University of Lethbridge Faculty Association (ULFA) strike saw classes disrupted for weeks.
“Their mandate hasn’t changed, and the mandate we’ve been given from our members is not being met,” explained Jake Cameron, chair of the local union.
“They’re bargaining through the provincial government’s bargaining co-ordination office, so they’re in a box and they can’t get out of it.”
On Thursday afternoon, the U of L provided a statement confirming a new meeting had been set for Tuesday.
“Earlier today, the University of Lethbridge and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees Local #053 agreed to return to mediation on Dec. 6, 2022, based on the recommendation of the mediator for discussions to resume,” the institution told Global News.
“The university remains hopeful that a new collective agreement can be achieved.”
If a resolution isn’t found, there’s a chance for a strike.
“There are options on the table for us that include having a strike vote, which is the last thing we want to do,” Cameron said.
“Our goal is not to disrupt the semester, disrupt student studies or their education, but you know, we also have members who have to live through these rough economic times like everybody else.”
Dan O’Donnell, president of ULFA and a professor of English, said a post-secondary institution having two strikes in one year is almost unheard of.
The school is still recovering from the impacts of the labour impasse earlier this year.
“The possibility, even, is actively harming our reputation right now,” he said.
“Even just pushing things to this point twice in one year does no good to the university, and of course raises the anxiety in students, parents, and I would say faculty and staff.”
Kairvee Bhatt, president of the University of Lethbridge Students’ Union, said this situation comes at a difficult time for students on the cusp of final exams.
“Students are feeling very overwhelmed right now, to be completely honest,” she said. “This is not news that they were hoping (for) or anticipating.
“Students are just wanting one normal year on campus.”
She said her goal is to ensure students are updated as the situation continues, encouraging them to reach out with any questions or concerns.
“We’re just really hoping that nothing poorly comes out of this, and it’s resolved in a positive and productive manner and we can continue having a strong (and) a respectful experience on our campus.”
O’Donnell added that faculty who are not part of the AUPE Local #053 would have the option to cross the picket line should there be a strike.