Students may not consider what is involved in working at a post-secondary institution in Alberta. Post-secondary staff are essential to the pursuit of higher learning. The NAIT Academic Staff Association or NASA, represents more than 1,100 staff on campus. They serve their membership through advocating on their behalf and negotiating collective agreements that provide them with benefits.
NASA, along with other faculty associations at various postsecondary institutions across Alberta, has been involved in ongoing consultations with the provincial government regarding upcoming legislative changes to the Post-Secondary Learning Act (PSLA). In January 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, recognizing a Charter-protected right to strike when collective agreement negotiations break down. Changes to Alberta’s PSLA would be necessary to bring the act into compliance with the Supreme Court of Canada ruling.
The 15 faculty associations across Alberta fall under the leadership of the Alberta Colleges & Institutes Faculties Association or ACIFA. ACIFA President Dr. Anna Beukes is optimistic the changes to the PSLA will be beneficial for everyone involved. The biggest concern put forward by members is the potential loss of collegial governance. Changes to the labour relations model could have an adverse impact on students and staff due to the adversarial nature that some labour relations models create between employers and employees.
“We will advocate as much as possible to stay under a revised PSLA” Beukes said. ACIFA members would also like to see a distinction between managers and employees when it comes to the bargaining unit. Other changes would be to limit the say an institution has in deciding which groups of staff belong to the faculty association, something that is currently favoured heavily towards an institutions’ Board of Governors.
Arlana Moskalyk, NASA President, is looking forward to the continuing consultation process and sees the potential changes as beneficial to not only NASA members but also everyone at NAIT. She would like to see supplemental changes to the PSLA.
“We are hoping we don’t get put under the labour code. The PSLA is our own labour code. It has been working for us,” Moskalyk commented. She agreed with Dr. Beukes that the need for the individual academic staffing associations to decide who they represent is important. There is an upcoming roundtable report later in November that she hopes will bring everyone together for an important conversation. Along with 63 different representatives for the parties involved, experienced arbitrator Andrew Sims Q.C. will be in attendance to help see a meaningful outcome.
Dr. Glenn Feltham could not be reached for comment at time of print but spokesman Frank Landry said: “NAIT will abide by any ruling that is handed down from the provincial government.” The Minister for Advanced Education, Marlin Schmidt, acknowledges that change was needed.
“The department reviewed that case with respect to the legislation that governs labour relations on campus and the Post-Secondary Learning Act and advised that it would probably be offside with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Supreme Court’s decision,” the Minister said.
“When we brought forward essential services legislation last year, one of the recommendations was to not include faculty in the essential services legislation at that time. We needed to conduct additional consultation with the stakeholders,” Minister Schmidt said . Through the initial consultations that were conducted last year, additional issues were identified that needed refinement before legislation could be properly crafted.
Those consultations are ongoing through targeted stakeholder meetings to further understand the issues involved. Those consultations have not been without challenges. “I think we have a difference of opinion on some issues, such as around certifications of faculty associations as unions,” Minister Schmidt recognizes, “certainly that is the whole point of consultations, to listen to the diverse perspectives on the issues that we are trying to resolve and come to a common understanding.”
The government looks forward to receiving those recommendations for what the legislation should look like. The goal is to have legislation brought forward to the Legislative Assembly for the spring of 2017.
While the next few months should determine what if any changes will occur to the PSLA, it appears as though all parties involved want the best outcome for the staff and students at NAIT.
– A.J. Shewan, Assistant Issues Editor