Early this week, the contract talks between Athabasca University (AU) and the Athabasca University Faculty Association (AUFA) resumed. On Monday, AU tabled a full package proposal that it believes represents a balanced settlement of the outstanding differences between the parties. In response, AUFA tabled a full package proposal on Wednesday. This exchange will allow mediation to be as productive as possible and eliminate time wasted on reviewing the proposals the parties were prepared to offer in advance. We also believe it is essential that employees potentially affected by a labour disruption know what is at stake. AU’s full offer can be read at the link below.
Today, my update focuses on three elements of the proposal brought forward on behalf of AU’s Board of Governors.
Cost of living adjustment
AU has tabled a new proposal which includes moderate increases to cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) in line with other recent agreements.
AU is closely monitoring the trends in bargaining across the post-secondary and public sectors. As you may have heard, Mount Royal University recently reached an agreement with their faculty association through the mediation process.
AU’s COLA offer is the same as what was agreed to at MRU. AU has proposed a four-year term with a total increase of at least 2.75% and possibly up to 3.25% based on economic factors. More specifically, AU is proposing a 1.25% increase effective April 1, 2023, and a further 1.5% increase effective December 1, 2023. In addition, there is the possibility of an additional 0.5% increase effective February 29, 2024, and retroactive to December 1, 2023, if certain province-wide economic metrics are met.
This offer is in line with the agreement recently reached between the Government of Alberta and the Alberta Union of Public Employees. This is a larger COLA increase than was agreed to at Concordia University.
Throughout bargaining, AU has been consistent that it intends to reach an agreement that is balanced and in line with other comparable organizations. This proposal is a continuation of that. Similarly, AU has made it clear to AUFA at the bargaining table that this proposal represents our full monetary mandate.
$2.1 Million for AUFA Professionals
AU is also offering a one-time cash payment of $2.1 million to be distributed equally to eligible professional staff in the AUFA bargaining unit. A one-time payment would be made to each professional staff member with accrued Research and Study Leave in exchange for foregoing accrued Research and Study Leave.
When professionals take Research and Study Leave, it has an inordinate operational impact on the university. Important and time-sensitive institutional projects are delayed. This often has a real and negative impact on learners.
Some professionals have accrued leave amounts that would be impossible to use over their careers. This offer provides professionals with the practical ability to see a monetary value from their accrued leave.
AU continues to provide 21 days of paid leave every year for professionals to further their professional development. No other Alberta post-secondary institution offers this. AU is not proposing any reduction to this entitlement.
AU is able to offer this payment as a result of an unexpected forecasted favourable operating budget variance. This lump sum is only available until March 31, 2022. The reason for this limitation stems from the fact that it will be sourced from funding available from one-time savings experienced in the current fiscal year, ending March 31, 2022. Under generally accepted accounting principles, our ability to incur this commitment requires that a ratified agreement that substantiates the obligation be in place prior to the year-end (March 31, 2022).
Adding Rigour to Academic Probationary Review and Promotion
Tenure review and academic promotion processes are critical academic functions that directly impact the integrity and reputation of AU within Alberta and around the globe. As one of four Comprehensive Academic and Research Universities (CARU) in Alberta, we have an opportunity as an institution and an obligation to our learners to ensure our tenure and promotion review processes reflect the rigour and consistency required of a CARU.
To this end, AU engaged an advisory review of our current tenure and promotion review processes. The review included an external scan on the best practices of the other CARU institutions (the University of Alberta, University of Calgary and the University of Lethbridge), an internal review of AU’s current processes, and input received through interviews with members of the Faculty.
Our proposals respond to recommendations put forward in the review and include:
- Creating a Faculty Evaluation Committee to evaluate probationary review and promotion applications for research-based academic staff;
- Enhancing controls concerning external referees’ qualifications;
- Strengthening requirements concerning the evidence required to effectively demonstrate that the candidate has met the criteria with respect to teaching, research, and service; and
- Eliminating risks related to real or perceived conflicts of interest.
AU is not proposing changes to the probationary review processes for Academic Coordinators.
Mediation between AU and AUFA is schedule to commence next week, March 8, 2022.
AU wants a deal, and this proposal reflects that. We hope AUFA wants to reach a deal and avoid a strike as well. As always, I encourage you to check the 2021/2022 bargaining website for additional information. You may also email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or reach out to your respective union representatives.