Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Athabasca faculty file unfair labour practice complaint

Last week, the Athabasca University Faculty Association filed a complaint with the Alberta Labour Relations Board. The crux of the complaint is that Athabasca University is violating sections 60 and 148 of the Labour Relations Code. I have reprised the LRB notice to the right (click to get a bigger version).

Section 60 of the Code addresses collective bargaining. Essentially, it says that the employer and the union and shall meet within 30 days of one being served notice to bargain by the other and, with 15 days of the first meeting, the parties shall exchange bargaining proposals.

Section 148(1)(a)(i) and (ii) of the Code addresses employer behaviour in the workplace. They prohibit employers from interfering in the formation and administration of a union and the union’s representation of employees.

Although the notice is a touch vague, the union is alleging two basic things in its complaint:

1. The employer is routinely ignoring its obligations under the collective agreement and otherwise jerking the union around. This interferes with the union’s ability to represent its members and, consequently, undermines the credibility of the union with the membership. Freezing out the union is a typical union-busting tactic because it undermines the support the union enjoys from the employer.

2. The employer is stalling bargaining (specifically, it will not meet within the 15-day timeline to exchange proposals despite having months of notice that bargaining was coming). Again, this kind of bad faith bargaining undercuts the unions’ credibility with its members and is a typical union-busting tactic.

To be fair, it may be simply be that the employer is incompetent in the management of its labour-relations functions (rather than being intentionally obstructive). Having seen the full complaint, I'd be pretty skeptical that this is solely about incompetence--it looks like a (bad) strategy. In the end, what is driving this behaviour won't matter much because the effect is the same.

This pattern of behaviour is not new at AU. For example, in 2015, the employer went on a tear of evading timelines and stalling grievances and bargaining. The university eventually apologized for that and said it wouldn't do it again.

In 2016, the employer stalled bargaining by being available to meet (by my count) only five times in nine months. When they arrived to bargain, they were routinely unprepared, hadn't done what they said they would do at the end of the last meeting, and, at one point, started arguing against proposals that they had advanced (no, seriously, that actually happened!). Not surprisingly, bargaining hit the skids and went to arbitration. 

During these antics, the faculty association had no access to meaningful remedy for such unfair labour practices because of the structure of Alberta’s labour laws. That has now changed. Alas, the employer’s behaviour hasn’t.

It is notable that the employer has, so far, refused to circulate the notice of this complaint to its staff as it was instructed to do “immediately” by the Labour Board on April 12 (in the past they have just emailed it around). The faculty association has been forced to post the notice so its members are aware.

Why the employer would also pick a fight with the Labour Board by being obstructive is a bit of a mystery. It is also a touch ironic that the university can’t meet the timeline for circulating a notice about a complaint that it can’t meet timelines… .

A response from the employer is due on April 26 and a hearing will be scheduled thereafter.

-- Bob Barnetson

1 comment:

  1. Update: The employer finally circulated the LRB notice on email on Thursday, April 19 at 2 pm, seven days after it was sent by the LRB t the employer.