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Academic Views

Possible Hidden Dangers/Consequences in Government Consultation

– By Sandra Hoenle, Faculty Association President –

The provincial government is consulting academic staff across the province regarding putting Faculty Associations under the Labour Act as traditional trade unions.  We want to alert you to this exercise, but also to flag some possible consequences of such a change that could potentially involve the loss of some current protections and benefits.


Currently, the Faculty Associations in Alberta are established as bargaining agents under the Post-Secondary Learning Act (PSLA), not the Labour Act. This means we have many of the same powers as a union, but are technically not a union. Because of the Supreme Court ruling requiring that all bargaining groups be given the right to strike, the provincial government is required to update the legislation. They could decide to retain us under the PSLA with an amendment to this effect, but instead at the moment they seem inclined to go further, simply making us regular trade unions under the Labour Act since a strike process already exists there. The problem is that things are not that simple – moving us under the Labour Act has a variety of potentially harmful consequences for many of our members. I’m going to list those potential dangers below, but invite you to click on the link at the bottom of this article for the Faculty Association’s discussion paper to get more details.

Note that the government already held a consultation on this matter with Faculty Associations, post-secondary institutions’ Administrations, and Graduate Students’ Associations (they are also affected): this took place this last fall. So the current consultation is a second consultation. At the Fall 2015 consultations there was unanimous consensus among Administrations and Faculty Associations that all things considered it would be wiser to keep the post-secondary labour system under the PSLA (though with some changes to the PSLA – the different parties recommended this for different reasons).

At Issue

The government paper raises the possibility that:

– Key provisions of the Collective Agreement such as those governing academic freedom, tenure, or pensions could be legislated out of the Agreement.

Without the government making substantial amendments (not yet described) to the Labour Act, moving the Faculty Association under the current legislation could cause the following to happen:

– All physicians, lawyers, engineers, and architects could be excluded from the Faculty Associations and hence from the protections/benefits of the Collective Agreements.

– All who are currently academic staff but who have supervisory roles in relation to academic staff (Heads, Associate Deans, Assistant Deans, Area Chairs, etc.) or who supervise other employees (lab assistants, graduate students assistants, sessionals etc.) could be excluded from the Faculty Associations and from the protection/benefits of the Collective Agreements.

This move opens up the possibility that:

– Some categories of members (for example librarians, counsellors, sessionals, and maybe others) could be excluded from the Faculty Associations and placed in separate unions. In this case, these groups might lose some of their current rights/protections/benefits under the existing Collective Agreements.

– Groups and individuals that end up being excluded from Faculty Association membership, or who end up in new unions may not be eligible to participate in the Universities Academic Pension Plan according to the rules of that Plan.

Pension costs for contributing members towards the pre-92 unfunded liability could rise significantly if current Plan members become excluded

If these matters are of concern to you and you want to find out more of what this means to you, I invite you to review the Association’s discussion paper at the link below. Normally, as the exclusive bargaining agents, the expectation is that the Government would be consulting with the Faculty Associations only. We don’t know why they are insisting on going around the duly elected leadership of the Faculty Association to the membership, but if you choose to respond directly to the Government we would encourage you to also send us a copy to help us know your views as we prepare our official response (email [email protected], or send hard-copy to Room 1402, Education Tower). Your elected Board of Directors will be considering our official response to the Government and we will be consulting with the Department Representatives, so please share your views with them.

Finally, although we’re starting off this year with a bang, I do wish you the best of success over the upcoming academic year. You’ll be hearing more from me shortly in a regular Academic Views about the many issues facing the Association this fall.

Discussion Paper – PSLA Labour Consultations (.pdf)

Correction: The original draft of this article incorrectly identified the timing of the first consultation as Spring 2016 when it was, in fact, Fall 2015.  The paper has also been updated to reflect the correct date.

September 2016
1. Possible Hidden Dangers/Consequences in Government Consultation
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