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


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the update! I wasn't able to attend the meeting.

Anonymous said...

"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."

Is there any indication what this demand was? Is it a reasonable demand?