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Labour talks at University of Lethbridge progressing as strike looms


‘There’s movement, and that’s always where the solutions come from’

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Progress is being made in collective bargaining talks between faculty and administration at the University of Lethbridge, as the parties aim to come to an agreement on a new contract.

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But it’s yet to be seen whether the gains at the bargaining table will avert a strike Thursday morning, with faculty set to hit the picket line at 11 a.m. if a settlement isn’t reached before then.

Negotiating teams with both parties have met every day this week, with meetings taking place all day Wednesday ahead of the anticipated work stoppage. University of Lethbridge Faculty Association president Dan O’Donnell said there’s been “sparks” in discussions following an impasse in negotiations.

“There’s movement, and that’s always where the solutions come from,” O’Donnell said. “But it’s really hard to say. I would say it doesn’t look very hopeful, but there is still some hope.”

In a statement to Postmedia, the University of Lethbridge acknowledged progress, saying negotiations are continuing with hope for a quick resolution to the labour conflict.

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On Monday, the faculty association announced its members voted 92 per cent in favour of a strike, with 87 per cent of members casting a ballot, filing with the Alberta Labour Relations Board to strike later that week.

The university applied to the labour board on the same day to delay the start of the strike, saying they wanted the board to first rule on a bad faith negotiations complaint it made against ULFA last week. They withdrew that application later that evening, a move they said was in recognition of progress in bargaining.

“The university remains committed to further progress at the bargaining table, and mitigating the impacts of a strike on students and the community,” the university said.

The University of Lethbridge also filed for a campus lockout of all faculty members, which is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. Friday.

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O’Donnell criticized the university for “gamesmanship” in its applications to the labour board. He raised concerns that student research employees won’t be able to be paid during a lockout.

“There’s an erraticness and an incoherence in what they’re doing, and that’s a little bit concerning,” he said.

In filing its bad faith negotiations complaint last week, the university said the two sides were one per cent away on salary proposals when the union left the bargaining table, accusing the union of impeding progress through “provocative” positions.

The ULFA has said its three focuses in negotiating are pay raises, improved job security and “restoring collegial governance and respect” with school administration.

The contentious labour dispute has been building for nearly 600 days, after the union’s previous contract expired at the end of June 2020.

The possible strike action at the university is part of a wave of unprecedented labour strife at Alberta post-secondary institutions. The province’s first-ever faculty strike took place last month at Edmonton’s Concordia University, while disputes are also ongoing at Mount Royal University, the University of Alberta and Athabasca University.

jherring@postmedia.com

Twitter: @jasonfherring

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