Union-excluded member updates

Union-excluded member FAQs

Collective bargaining is underway with the Athabasca University Faculty Association (AUFA), the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, local 69 (AUPE), and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, local 3911 (CUPE).

The inquiries we have received have guided the following FAQs and address general questions related to bargaining. If team members have other questions not addressed here, please email bargaining@athabascau.ca. We will update the FAQs based on new questions received.


Who is on the AU bargaining teams?

The AUFA team:

  • Chantel Kassongo (co-chair), Dr. Alain May (co-chair), Jessica Butts Scott, Anik Fehr, Abey Arnaout

The AUPE team:

  • Pauline Smeltz (co-chair), Chantel Kassongo (co-chair), Kevin Meleskie, Abey Arnaout, Joanne Raycraft, David Head

The CUPE team:

  • Alain May (co-chair), Chantel Kassongo (co-chair), Abey Arnaout, Joanne Raycraft, Nichole Collins

What is a collective agreement?

A collective agreement is a fixed-term written contract between the employer and a union that outlines many of the terms and conditions of employment for employees in a bargaining unit.

What is collective bargaining?

Collective bargaining is a process in which a union and an employer negotiate a collective agreement or amendments to it.

How do negotiations for a collective agreement begin?

Either the employer or the union may give notice to bargain as early as 120 days and as late as 60 days before the current agreement is due to expire, or during any other time period expressly set out in a collective agreement.

How long does bargaining take?

How long bargaining takes is dependent upon a number of factors. These include:

  • The number of new or amended articles being proposed; and
  • Where both parties stand with respect to their goals in bargaining.

Is bargaining at AU taking longer than it has in the past?

No. But negotiations do take time. We understand team members may want bargaining to move faster, however, negotiations do take time.

What is an essential services agreement?

As the university falls under the Essential Services requirement, the university and the unions can only have a mediator appointed to assist with bargaining if at least one of the following requirements is met:

  • The parties have an essential services agreement that has been accepted for filing;
  • The parties have been granted an exemption;
  • The Essential Services Commissioner has made a declaration that the provision of essential services during a strike or lockout will substantially interfere with meaningful collective bargaining; or
  • The Essential Services Commissioner has consented to a mediator being appointed without a filed essential services agreement.

In the case of the agreement with AUFA, the association has filed for an essential services exemption (referred to in the second bullet above). Essentially, this application asserts that there are no AUFA positions that are essential, as defined in the definition above. If the Essential Services Commissioner agrees, an exemption will be granted and either party can then request that a mediator be appointed.

What is mediation?

In mediation, a mediator is brought in to assist the parties with outstanding issues in the hopes of reaching a negotiated agreement. It is non-binding, though the mediator may make formal recommendations at the end if the parties do not reach an agreement.

There are two types of mediation recognized in the Alberta Labour Relations Code–formal and informal. The only difference is that formal mediation is a required pre-condition to a legal strike or lockout taking place.

What if the employer and the union cannot reach an agreement in mediation?

If the mediator is not able to resolve the differences between the parties, the mediator will “book or report out” (i.e. advises Mediation Services that the parties are not able to reach an agreement with the assistance of a mediator) and the parties then enter what is called a 14-day “cooling off period.”

What is a strike?

A strike occurs when members of a bargaining unit withhold services through cessation of work, or refusal to work. Strikes are a legally regulated labour negotiation tactic.

In Alberta, strikes are regulated by the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB).

Before a union begins strike action, it must have received a majority vote in favour of the strike. The ALRB then grants permission for a strike to occur within a 120-day window.

Unions must provide employers with 72 hours of written notice before a strike begins.

What is a lockout?

A lockout occurs when an employer denies members of a union bargaining unit access to the workplace. Lockouts are a legally regulated labour negotiations action.

In Alberta, lockouts are regulated by the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB).

To initiate a lockout, an employer must apply for permission to the ALRB, and provide the union with 72 hours of written notice.

When is a union in a legal strike position?

During, or any time after the 14-day cooling-off period, the union or the employer can apply for a strike or lockout vote with the Alberta Labour Relations Board. A majority (50%+1) of those voting by secret ballot must vote in favour of strike action for the union to call a strike. Bargaining unit members are encouraged to vote.

The voting process is confidential and subject to the supervision of a Labour Board Officer. The assigned Labour Board Officer will ensure the vote meets the following requirements:

  • The vote is polling all of the right people;
  • Timeliness of the vote;
  • The adequacy of notice to the voters;
  • The suitability of the voting arrangements; and
  • The form of the ballot.

If the strike or lockout vote passes, either party must provide each other with at least 72-hours advance notice of any proposed action. The strike or lockout vote is valid for 120 days, and can be used at any point during the 120-day period. If the strike vote is not used in the 120-day period, the union or the employer must complete another strike vote.

Can a strike be avoided?

Yes. AU is working hard to avoid a work stoppage, but recognizes that there are two parties in a negotiation. If you do not want to go on strike, be sure to let your negotiating committee know and exercise your right to participate in any vote that may be held.

Strikes are easy to start, but very difficult to end. AU will continue working hard towards achieving a balanced and sustainable agreement and we hope each of our bargaining partners commits to doing the same.

While the parties’ bargaining positions continue to be far apart, bargaining is ongoing. If bargaining reaches an impasse, the parties would have recourse to a mediator before any lawful strike could take place.

Can I continue working during a labour disruption?

If you are not in an affected bargaining unit, you are required to continue to work. As an excluded team member, you are required to continue to work.

What happens if my supervisor is on strike?

AU has a unique bargaining unit structure that has resulted in the possibility of a non-striking employee being supervised by a striking employee. If this were to occur, AU has plans in place to support non-striking employees in completing their work.

If there is picketing, where would it take place?

The Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) regulates picketing. Picketing is generally restricted to the employees’ place of employment and may only occur on public property.

How will people receive updates on the situation?

Updates are available on AU’s bargaining website. Communications will also be sent via email and social media.

What does a “tentative agreement” mean?

This means that an employer and the union have reached agreement on amendments to the collective agreements. However, those amendments, or the “tentative agreement” are subject to each parties’ ratification process.

What is ratification? How does this work?

Ratification by the union is how members of the bargaining unit vote to accept or reject the tentative agreement. The vote must be conducted by secret ballot. The collective agreement is considered “ratified” by the bargaining unit if a majority (50% +1) of those voting vote to accept the terms of the tentative agreement.

A tentative agreement also needs to be ratified by the university. In this case, it is the Board of Governors who will vote to ratify the tentative agreement.