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U of A negotiations with academic staff at stalemate, strike possible


Although students at the University of Alberta are set to return to in-person classes at the end of the month, a stalemate between administration and academic staff could shut down classes altogether.

According to the university's bargaining updates, negotiations with the University of Alberta's Association of Academic Staff (AASUA) started in November 2020 and the parties have met more than 30 times.

"Negotiations are ongoing between the university and its academic association," the university said in a statement to CTV News Edmonton.

"The university is committed to working with AASUA to reach a negotiated agreement. We welcome mediation as another opportunity to continue negotiations, achieve resolution and bring much needed stability to our community."

Timm Mills, AASUA president and a sessional instructor in linguistics, told CTV News Edmonton the university has gone through a "massive" restructuring prompted by government cuts to the institution over the past three years.

"All of the usual workflow throughs, how we do things, has been upended," Mills said. "A lot of the support staff that would normally help out with the work that we do in delivering the education and doing the research – a lot of the people have disappeared.

"That means there's more work on the instructors to do the administrative work on the side, instead of focusing on the research. And the teaching that's the reason we are here in the first place," he said, adding that more than 1,000 non-academic staff positions have been cut.

"(Contract negotiations) is normally a regular thing that you do. Your contract expires. You bargain a new one," he added.

"We've come a long way, but we find ourselves quite far apart on compensation. We want to try to stop the backward slide where our compensation isn't keeping track on inflation."

Meanwhile, on Thursday, students, faculty and staff marched to the Alberta legislature "to protest the massive cuts that the government has made to the U of A in the last three years and the massive one they are planning to make this year," said Rowan Ley, the Students' Union president.

Ley said because the province is projected to post a surplus due to higher-than-expected natural resource royalty revenues, students shouldn't feel the quality of their education being threatened.

By his math, cuts at the U of A over the past three years total more than $170 million.

While AASUA has applied for a third-party mediator to break the deadlock in negotiations, there is a possibility the association could go on strike in early March — just days after students return to in-person learning.

Mills says a short-term strike is less disruptive to learning than the university's offer to professors and staff on salary, benefits, and the pension plan.

"It becomes harder to retain good academics, to recruit new academics," he said. "That's just going to spell the end of the U of A as we know it."

Faculty association members at Concordia University of Edmonton ratified a new collective agreement after going on a nearly 12-day strike in January. University of Lethbridge staff went on strike the second week of February.

Ley said while U of A students support AASUA's fight for fair compensation, many hope it does not come to a strike that would disrupt learning.

"We all want to see a fair agreement and support for our instructors," Ley said. "We all hope it can be reached on the table." Top Stories

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