Dozens rallied on the edge of the University of Lethbridge campus on Wednesday afternoon in support of faculty, who have been without a contract for more than a year.
University of Lethbridge Faculty Association president Dan O’Donnell says the effects of the bargaining impasse are being felt on multiple levels.
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“We’re 500-odd days in without a contract, there’s been very little progress at the table, and we think that that’s coming across everywhere at the university,” O’Donnell said.
“The University of Lethbridge is the second-largest employer in the town. It’s professors, faculty and the students that we bring — from overseas, from elsewhere in the country — who supply the business to the tradespeople, to the businesses, to the shops, to the landlords.”
Bargaining for a new agreement began in January. ULFA recently published an open letter on its website, available for anyone to send to the U of L board.
Health science associate professor Julia Brassolotto says she and her colleagues are feeling the uncertainty more than anything.
“We’re not sure what it’s going to look like, if we’ll end up having to take a pay cut. We’re not sure about the supports that will be there for students and for research going forward,” she said.
“All of that is unsettling, and just not having a contract, in general, is a bit uneasy. But I also think the people who are impacted most are all of our sessional lecturers and contract instructors because they’re the most precariously employed of us all.”
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O’Donnell says his group has been asked to take a 4.5 per cent wage rollback retroactive to July 2020 when they already get paid 10 to 15 per cent less than faculty at similar universities.
He says the cuts are bound to affect the quality of education that they’re all so proud to provide.
“The University of Lethbridge has always punched above its weight in terms of its impact, in terms of the quality of its research, the quality of its teaching, and we believe that’s in real danger now,” he said.
Brassolotto says she fears cuts will eliminate the things that set the school apart.
“I think one of the things the U of L is really proud of is how small our classes are, how well we get to know our students, the kinds of research opportunities and experiential learning opportunities that they get,” Brassolotto said.
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“Making them bigger and having staff who are burnt out, who have increased workloads, who are struggling with mental health stressors as a result of that, it’s going to make for bad learning conditions for students.”
The University of Lethbridge responded to Wednesday’s rally with a statement: “By the end of 2022-23, the government of Alberta’s operating support for the university will have been reduced by over 21 per cent since 2019-20.”
“Advocating for ongoing public support for post-secondary education is an important activity, and like ULFA, the University of Lethbridge continues to make the case to the government of Alberta that investments in post-secondary education will help our city, region and province grow, diversify our economy and improve the quality of life of Albertans and beyond,” the university said.
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The statement added that last month, the board’s negotiating team applied for informal mediation under the Alberta Labour Relations Code.
“Informal mediation is an established, positive and constructive tool for collective bargaining, which supports both parties in reaching mutually acceptable agreements through a neutral third party. The board negotiation team believes the assistance of an objective third-party mediator is necessary to achieve a resolution,” the university said.
The two sides — along with the mediator — are set to meet next in late November.
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