Thursday, April 6, 2017

PSE labour relations: ACIFA explodes

A few weeks ago, I wrote about organizing efforts that are underway among University of Alberta Graduate students. These efforts reflect some of the instability that has emerged in (normally sleepy) academic labour relations in Alberta as the government prepares to extend the right to strike (and hopefully other labour rights) to academics--perhaps even this week!

There has been an interesting development in the college sector. The Alberta Colleges-Institutes Faculty Association is a provincial association that provided government and labour relations services to 15 faculty associations in Alberta. To the best of my recollection, the association dates back into the 1980s (but I may be wrong--that was a long time ago!) and basically acts as a labour central.

ACIFA has always had certain organizational tensions. Its member associations are quite diverse in size, scope, and ambitions. The associations include Alberta’s two huge technical institutes, two ambitious undergraduate universities, the art college, and a collection of other colleges (with a mix of university transfer, adult upgrading, and vocation programming, including agriculture). Add in a leadership cadre that, at times, has been uneven and you get some interesting politics.

It appears there was a recent kerfuffle in ACIFA. While the details are a bit sketchy, it appears that a number of member associations sought a change in ACIFA’s leadership. My source suggests a motion to this effect was thwarted procedurally (someone left a meeting to bring it below quorum).

The upshot is that the staff appear to have resigned, several (I hear half) of the member associations have indicated their intention to depart, and numerous executive members have resigned. I’m happy to correct that information if new facts emerge.

For the average college faculty member, this means little (their connection is with their local association). Provincially, the implications are more interesting:

1. Important labour law and funding reviews are afoot. How do associations that have left ACIFA influence government policy? And how does government get a coherent faculty resaponse from a splintered group?

2. Individual college faculty association have uneven levels of internal capacity to negotiate contracts and run grievances. How will low-capacity associations respond to the loss of key ACIFA staff members? If they can simply contract with former ACIFA staff privately for labour-relations services, an important (and perhaps the central) value of ACIFA membership disappears.

3. Speaking of staying, will the remaining ACIFA executive stay (and could they get re-elected) since the organization imploded under their leadership? And will other member associations drift away now that ACIFA has lost its staff expertise? Why would any association stay in a rump organization?

4. Individual faculty associations will soon face strike-lockout in collective bargaining. A sensible employer tactic would be to identify the weakest association(s) and try to force concessions to set a pattern. Absent a provincial association through which to share information and resources, small college faculty associations will be particularly vulnerable to this kind of pressure.

5(a). Vacuums tend to be filled. Will more former-ACIFA associations look to take out full membership in the national Canadian Association of University Teachers? Will some associations approach the provincial university body (the Confederation of Alberta Faculty Associations) about joining? And will CAFA want to let them in, given the traditionally different mandates of the research intensive universities and past squabbles?

5(b) Or, is this an opportunity for mainstream labour unions, such as the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, to pick up some additional members? Whether that would be through raiding or some kind of affiliation might depend on what the new labour laws look like in PSE. Wall-to-wall coverage of support and academic employees at an institution would give AUPE significant bargaining power.]

All told, these are among the most interesting times I can recall in faculty labour politics in Alberta since the Klein cuts in 1994.

-- Bob Barnetson

No comments: