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University of Lethbridge set for strike action
The 92% strike mandate is a harbinger of further unrest at Alberta post-secondaries
Faculty at the University of Lethbridge could go on strike as soon as tomorrow morning — after 92% of the faculty association voted in favour of labour action with an 87% turnout, which was revealed Monday.
The most recent contract between the University of Lethbridge Faculty Association (ULFA) and the university expired nearly 600 days ago, an exceptionally long time to be without a new contract.
The U of L Faculty Association (ULFA) and the university’s Board [sic] have been unable to agree on a new contract since with several outstanding key issues still at play such as pay and benefits, academic freedom, and certain departments at the school being restructured.
The ULFA argued that its professors are already underpaid compared to other similarly-sized post-secondary schools and that they deserved more due to the constant stress and change due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Board, however, has reminded faculty that it has lost millions of dollars in funding from the provincial government and is not in a great financial position.
It is undoubtedly true that UCP cuts to post-secondary education mean there’s less money to go around at universities, but that makes it precisely the time for admin and faculty to form a united front against these cuts, rather than having admin carry out the UCP agenda.
In a Monday statement, administration called the faculty association’s financial demands “out-of-touch with today’s economic and workplace realities,” dangling the prospect of losing the entire spring semester in the event of a strike, which the faculty association president called a scare tactic.
“No university in Canada has ever lost this semester due to strike action,” said ULFA President Dan O’Donnell. “The longest strike ever in Canadian post-secondary was at York University for three months, and they didn’t lose the semester, and we felt it was really inappropriate for an administration who one assumes already knows this to nevertheless use that in order to scare students.”
He accused the board of “playing games with student anxiety” after two years of pandemic-related stress.
Joy Morris, a math professor and member of the ULFA bargaining team, told the CBC that U of L faculty earn 10-15% less in every job category and rank than those at the five universities administration and the association have agreed are comparable for negotiation purposes.
In response to the strike vote, administration immediately called off negotiations with U of L’s general support staff, who are represented by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, for the second time in two weeks, meaning the university could be waging war on its workers on two fronts.
“If the university thinks it can drive a wedge between different groups of workers by blaming the cancellation of our talks on the ULFA vote, it is very much mistaken.” said AUPE VP Darren Graham. “Support workers and faculty are part of a team that works hard to help students learn.”
If ULFA does go on strike tomorrow, it will be part of a wave of labour disruption in the post-secondary sector that began with a strike at the Concordia University of Edmonton at the beginning of the year, which was the first post-secondary strike in Alberta’s history.
After 12 days on the picket line, the Concordia University of Edmonton Faculty Association gained concessions on salary increases, job security and working conditions.
Faculty at Mount Royal University and Athabasca University are also in the midst of fraught negotiations with their employers.
“Each institution has its own particular grab-bag of concessions it’s asking for,” Athabasca University labour studies professor Jason Foster told me of the Concordia strike. “But it’s pretty consistent across the board — The employer’s asking for everything.”
You can read my rankandfile.ca piece on the historic Concordia strike here.
In other news …
Starting at the crack of midnight last night, restaurants and entertainment venues will no longer require proof of vaccination to enter. This is a first step in Alberta’s reopening plan, along with eliminating capacity restrictions for venues that seat less than 500 people and ending mandatory masking for children under the age of 12 in schools.
"It has always been the government's approach to keep public health measures in place only so long as they are absolutely necessary to protect public health and our health-care system throughout the pandemic,” said Premier Jason Kenney.
Now, remind me, how that has gone previously.
In a jaw-dropping act of chutzpah, Kenney compared the stigmatization of unvaccinated people to that of AIDS patients, a movement that he gleefully supported in the 1980s.
Alberta harm-reduction groups, Moms Stop the Harm and Each and Every, have withdrawn their presentation to a government committee examining the merits of providing people who use drugs with a safe supply because the bulk of presenters “appear to have been hand-picked for their stances against safe supply.”
The list of 21 UCP-selected panelists include Edmonton police chief Dale McFee, private recovery clinic Oxford House’s executive director Earl Thiessen, author Michael Shellenberger, whose latest book is entitled San Fransicko: How Progressives Ruin Cities, and clinical psychology professor Julian Somers, who has called safe supply a “vacuous practice.”
This comes after NDP MLAs Lori Sigurdson, Janis Irwin, David Shepherd and Kathleen Ganley resigned from their roles on the committee, deriding the panel as a “political stunt.”
Alberta Teachers’ Association president Jason Schilling called on the province to do more to protect students and staff after anti-vaxx protests occurred at schools near towns such as Sundre and Medicine Hat.
From CBC News: “In some cases, protesters got inside schools, yelling, banging on lockers and causing disruptions that forced school lockdowns, according to a news release from the ATA.”
"Schools are not places where protests should be happening. People who work in those buildings don't have control over who creates the mask or the vaccine mandates,” said Schilling.
I appreciate Schilling’s sentiment, but schools certainly are places where protests should be happening. They should not, however, be places where far-right agitation occurs.
Edited by Ximena González
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