Friday, June 30, 2023

Update: AUFA members to vote on reversing exec decision

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the Athabasca University Faculty Association (AUFA) executive deciding to make a cash donation to a member. Yesterday, the AUFA membership forced a special meeting on the issue and will soon be voting of a motion to reverse this decision.

A good outcome of the meeting was support for the development of a formal member emergency fund. There are lots of examples to choose from. Most have these features:
  • a low- or no-interest loan for a fixed period of time,
  • available to members on application,
  • a requirement for some disclosure of the circumstances giving rise to the need, and
  • decisions being made by a committee without a real or perceived conflict of interest.
The meeting itself flushed out some additional information about the executive’s donation. While I am hopeful that a recording of the meeting will be available to all AUFA members prior to the vote, I worry that the disclosure of the member’s identity by a member of the incoming executive during the meeting may preclude the union from sharing the recording. So, for those who could not attend, here is a recap (I have flagged the new info below):
  1. In early June, the executive held an emergency meeting three days before a regularly scheduled executive meeting.
  2. The purpose of the emergency meeting was to vote on a donation to a member whose salary had been cut off for refusing to comply with an employer direction (i.e., the member choose this outcome).
  3. NEW The member did not ask for this money. Rather, this motion was an initiative of a member of the executive.
  4. The executive was not told before voting on the donation that the member could have their salary restored simply by complying with the employer’s demand.
  5. NEW The donation was to another member of the executive.
  6. The recipient was not named in the notion meaning the payment could not be implemented.
  7. Multiple members of the executive resigned over the decision.
  8. The executive did not communicate this unprecedented move to the membership until nearly a week later and under pressure that I would tell the members if they did not. 
  9. The eventual disclosure (which occurred after voting for the next union executive had concluded) left out important information about the donation, including the resignations that had resulted from it.
So, is this decision by the executive one that should be reversed by the members?

One way to answer that is to look at how far the executive’s process deviated from the typical approach to emergency funds that I set out above.
  • There was a donation in lieu of a no-interest loan. There is no explanation for this.
  • The member never asked for the money; this was an initiative of an executive member. This raises the question of whether the member is even in need of the money? 
  • Key facts were not disclosed to the decision makers. Specifically, (1) evidence of hardship, and (2) that the member was refusing to take action that would restore the member’s salary (which is a bit like drowning in a bathtub because you refuse to sit up).
  • The recipient was a member of the same committee that made the decision. This may not create a conflict of interest (that is very hard to tell given the information the executive has provided) but it creates the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Overall, this was a bad process that led to what looks like a bad decision that was then communicated in way that was untimely and incomplete. Consequently, I think this decision, at the very least, warrants a do-over using a better process. The way to achieve that is for the members to pass a motion reversing the decision. The executive could, of course, rescind their decision and do a proper job of it once they have a fund set up.

It is notable that the executive has not followed through on the other motion it passed during the emergency meeting: strike a committee to establish a member emergency fund. Had they done that, members could be voting on that right now (there are lots of examples to cut and paste from, including AUFA’s emergency fund from its strike prep). This inaction is notable because the executive are, on the one hand, aggressively defending their decision but, on the other hand, taking no actual steps that would get their decision implemented (and get the member the money).

Several other motions planned for the meeting (including a non-confidence vote in the lame-duck executive) did not get discussed. An important issue going forward is that AUFA members (who almost all work from home) have no effective mechanism to discuss matters of concern as a group. Hopefully next year’s executive will do something about that.

-- Bob Barnetson

Friday, June 16, 2023

AUFA executive resignations follow unusual payment to member

Last Friday, the executive of the Athabasca University Faculty Association (AUFA) held an emergency meeting. After an apparently acrimonious discussion, the executive voted 5-4 to “donate” $2500 to another member. Subsequently, five members of the executive resigned and the treasurer is unable to make the payment because of the wording of the motion. 

The remaining members of the AUFA executive finally released some information about this payment a week later, after I threatened to go directly to the members. But the executive have left out important context and the subsequent resignations. These omissions are very troubling. This information also comes only after the union’s elections have concluded.

This post compiles the information I have been able to verify about these very concerning events. I believe this decision shows very poor judgment and that the remaining members of the executive who voted in favour of this motion should resign. I understand that one of them has done so this morning.


I’ve redacted some of the details but the gist is that a member declined to comply with an employer direction (i.e., was insubordinate). After several unsuccessful attempts to gain compliance, the employer placed the member on an unpaid leave.

As much as I don’t generally like how AU behaves, placing a member on unpaid leave is permissible in these very specific circumstances (that I am carefully not discussing). This has happened periodically over the past 15 years that I’ve been active with the association and is not an unprecedented situation (what is unprecedented is the payment).

The member decided to continue not complying (and thus not be paid). While being placed on an unpaid leave can certainly create a financial emergency for a member, this is not a labour-relations emergency for the union.

Subsequently, a member of the executive sought an emergency executive meeting to authorize payment of $2500 in financial aid. AUFA does not presently have a system for providing financial aid to members. The union did create an emergency-loan system in anticipation of a strike last year. Absent a work stoppage, that system does not operate because the members have not approved expanding its parameters.

Consequently, this request was brought to the union executive as an ad hoc motion. Article 12.8 of the AUFA bylaws permits the executive to authorize unbudgeted payments of up to $5000 without seeking membership approval.

Nine (of then 13) voting members of the executive were able to attend the emergency meeting:
  • Davina Bhandar 
  • Pamela Holway
  • Jonathan Leggo,
  • Gail Leicht
  • Katie MacDonald
  • Darka Pavlovic
  • Kristin Rodier
  • Rhiannon Rutherford
  • Ching Tan
After an in camera discussion, MacDonald and Bhandar moved:

“AUFA make a one-time donation of $2500 to the member in question in support of undue hardship.”

This motion passed 5-4 with Leggo, Leicht, Pavlovic, and Rutherford opposed. A subsequent motion established an ad hoc committee to look into establishing a formal member emergency fund (which is a good idea).

While no one has been prepared to discuss all of the details of the in camera discussion, some attendees have characterized the information provided to them an incomplete. For example, they were not told that the member could have their pay restored by simply complying with the employer’s direction.

Over the next several days, Leggo and Pavlovic along with Florene Ypma and Dave Powell resigned from the executive over the motion. Leicht (who is also the treasurer) has also indicated she will be resigning as soon as the executive can put someone in place to perform financial oversight functions. In the meantime, she has declined to issue the cheque because she does not have a name and mailing address to permit the issuance of a cheque.


A number of questions jump to mind:
  1. Why it was necessary to call an emergency meeting last Friday when there was regularly scheduled meeting three working days later? An emergency meeting likely reduced the number of executive members able to attend.
  2. Why the secrecy within the executive about who the member is? How can the executive make an informed and accountable decision without recording to whom the payment was made (even if this information is shared only on a need-to-know basis)?
  3. Why was the executive not informed during the discussion that the member who received the payment could have their pay restored by ceasing their insubordination?
  4. Why was the funding provided as a donation, rather than as an interest-free loan?
  5. Has this decision established a precedent whereby other members who refuse to comply with legitimate employer directions (i.e., are insubordinate) can now seek financial support from the union?
  6. Why did the remaining executive not inform the AUFA membership of this significant departure from past practice and the subsequent resignation of five executive members in a timely manner? This question is especially salient since (1) there was an immediate member request for disclosure (within minutes of the meeting ending) and (2) the payment decision was made in the middle of union elections wherein some of the executive members who voted in favour off the payment were running for office.
  7. Does this expenditure fall within the definition of non-core expenditures under the Labour Relations Code (as amended by Bill 32 several years ago) and, therefore, does it require the executive to get the permission of members to collect and expend these dues notwithstanding the bylaws? If so, will payment open AUFA up to a complaint to the Labour Relations Board?


While the union executive can spend up to $5000 on its own initiative, this sort of expenditure (which was not an emergency) should likely have been subjected to meaningful consultation with the membership. Indeed, many of the executive members who voted for this motion ran last year on a slate that promised greater transparency.

Savvy union leaders go out of their way ensuring that union decisions, particularly about spending, are transparent and above reproach. Last Friday’s decision does not demonstrate this sort of political acumen. Instead, we see executive members:
  1. Calling an unnecessary emergency meeting that only a portion of the union executive could attend.
  2. Authorizing an unprecedented payment to another member (with the support of only 5 of 13 executive members).
  3. Failing to disclose to the executive members in attendance that the member could resolve their problem on their own by complying with the employer’s direction.
  4. Not naming the member who is to receive the funding in the motion, which has resulted in the treasurer being unable process the payment.
  5. Disclosing information about the decision only after members threatened to release the information directly to the members and only after the end of the union election, in which some of the remaining executive members were candidates.
  6. Possibly created a precedent where the union is on the hook to financially support other members who are insubordinate (or, at least, having to fight off claims for such support).
This behaviour demonstrates why it is important for members to pay attention to union operations and be very choosey about who they elect to manage the affairs of their union.

Now What?

The good news is that a new executive will take control of AUFA as of September 1. Many of the key players in this decision will not be a part of that executive.

AUFA members could also call a special meeting (under Article 5.4 of the bylaws). At this meeting, they could demand an explanation from the remaining executive and/or they could advance motions. These motions could include overruling the payment, voting nonconfidence in some or all of the remaining executive members, or setting up a committee to develop an emergency loan system with meaningful oversight and sensible parameters.

Really, though, the simplest way for the remaining executive to restore membership confidence in the executive would be for the members of the existing executive who voted in favour of this motion to tender their resignations. I understand one of them has done so already (that is six resignations now, if you're keeping track). This would still leave enough executive members to get through the traditionally slower summer months and hand the organization over to the incoming executive in September.

-- Bob Barnetson

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Woes at Concordia U of Edmonton continue

Tim Loreman, CUE President and Mansion Enthusiast
Concordia University of Edmonton (CUE) has been struggling since its strike almost 18 months ago. As I wrote last month, CUE has engaged in behaviours that include layoffs and a large number of disciplinary investigations. Meanwhile, enrollments are tanking, governance procedures are being hollowed out, and programs are being identified as not meeting quality standards.

Two weeks ago, CBC ran a story that the CUE faculty had voted no confidence in President Tim Loreman. This was the second non-confidence vote in Loreman since the strike. The Board of Governors doesn’t seem interested in engaging in any dialog over these concerns.


Last week, Loreman responded to the most recent non-confidence vote in missive to staff. He begins by acknowledging dissatisfaction with his performance. 

As many of us are aware, last Friday the CBC published a story about CUEFA’s dissatisfaction with my leadership. This isn’t the first time I’ve been in this situation, but thankfully, I have the ongoing support of the Board of Governors, strong support from many in our community, and a committed personal support system that keeps me grounded. I am not going to allow these tactics to distract me from my efforts to make CUE a great place to work and study. 

There’s a lot to unpack there:

  • He suggests the dissatisfaction with his performance is on the part of the union, subtly ignoring that the union represents its members, the majority of whom voted non-confidence.
  • I can’t tell if “this isn’t the first time I’ve been in this situation” is part of his “the lady is not for turning” routine or just some kind of inadvertent admission. Either way, I can’t see that the admission really gains him anything.
  • The Board does seem to be backing him. But Athabasca University’s most recently sacked president is an instructive example of how fickle Board support it. As soon as Loreman becomes a political liability, that support will evaporate.
  • He's telling the workers that they will need to increase the costs attached to his behaviour in order to get him to change that behaviour.

Then there is this bit:

I would like to see decorum befitting a university community in the way we speak to, and about, each other. … At CUE our responsibilities towards one another can be found in our Code of Conduct and in policy. … It defines how we should interact with one another in order to retain positive, ethical, and healthy relationships. 

One aspect of codes of conduct is that they can be weaponized by the administrator of the code (the boss) to silence legitimate dissent on pain of discipline. It is unclear of Loreman’s statement was meant as a veiled threat, but that is how many CUE faculty are reading it. In the context of between 10 and 15% of faculty being subjected to disciplinary investigations since the strike (which is a wildly huge percentage), the faculty’s inference is pretty understandable.

The message then ends on a positive, “my door is always open” note. In the context of deteriorating staff relations, it is unlikely to convince or interest anyone. 

Meanwhile, back on the ranch, a hearing is scheduled at the Labour Board on June 28th to address an unfair labour practice complaint filed by the union against CUE. Based on the sections of the Code cited in the complaint it looks like a gooder.

Labour Board proceedings are usually characterized by lengthy delay (which is one way the government manages class conflict). But the complaint (coupled with declining enrollments and ongoing staff dissatisfaction) remains a potential landmine for CUE and for Loreman.


-- Bob Barnetson

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

U of Alberta faculty association leaves CAFA

The Confederation of Alberta Faculty Associations (CAFA) appears to be in the middle of a significant transition that was triggered by the departure of the University of Alberta faculty association this spring.

CAFA was formed in the early 1970s to represent the interests of Alberta university faculty associations, primarily to the government. Over time, the membership has ebbed and flowed. The University of Calgary faculty association has been in and out a couple of times since the 1990s and is presently out.

The departure of the U of A faculty association this spring financially destabilized CAFA, resulting in staff layoffs. The remaining member associations (Athabasca, MacEwan, Mount Royal, and Lethbridge) have decided to soldier on in a reduced capacity.

The good news is that this offers CAFA a chance to pivot away from its focus on lobbying the government. This has not been very effective and there now seems to be space to try something different. This is likely to include greater emphasis on the issues affecting mid-sized universities and cross institution coordination around bargaining and organizing. This is a sensible response to the secret mandates approach the UCP has taken to bargaining.

No one I have talked to has been particularly forthcoming about the reason(s) for the U of A FA’s departure from CAFA. Publicly, this is being portrayed as an amicable parting and a fresh start. Privately, there is a distinct whiff of “good riddance”.

An interesting question is the degree of cooperation that will be possible between CAFA member associations and the U of A FA. Certainly, the CAFA messaging is pretty rah-rah on that. Whether key players in member organizations are prepared to actually play ball is another matter.

Interestingly, members of the U of A faculty association that I’ve spoken to have said they have not been informed their association has left (or is about to leave--the timing is a touch unclear) CAFA (“uhhh… what?”) and I see no mention of it on the FA website. Of particular interest to those members is whether their dues will go down.

-- Bob Barnetson

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Alberta's 2021 Injury and Fatality Report

Alberta released some injury-related reports in April. Here are the highlights from the 2021 Workplace Injury, Illness and Fatality Statistics report:
  • A 12% increase in accepted injury claims (exclusive of COVID claims). 
  • Youth (15-24) continue to have the highest adjusted disabling claim rate (but the lowest fatality rate (likely influenced by the importance in long-latency occupational diseases to overall fatality rates).
  •  There were 135 fatalities accepted by the WCB, including 25 from COVID.
COVID-related claims accepted by the WCB totalled 6814 injuries and 25 deaths. The rules around compensability mean this is a significant undercounting of work-related COVID.

Table 3 (reproduced below) shows a pretty good summary. There was a significant drop in non-COVID injuries in 2020, which likely reflects the drop in employment during COVID (plus the crash in oil prices).

It is not clear to me what effect changes in the WCB legislation had on these numbers (I’d need to think a bit more about when the effect of those changes would start to show up).

Controlling for the size of the workforce (the rate per 100 person years worked) we see a drop in the rate of injury. As employment numbers and oil prices bounce back up in 2021, we see numbers and rates start to increase.

-- Bob Barnetson