In the News
Workers’ Fight to Defend the Right to Health Care and Education
University of Lethbridge Faculty Association Strikes
After Concordia Settles
Members of the University of Lethbridge Faculty Association (ULFA) went out on strike on Thursday, February 10, the second Alberta faculty association to walk out since the year 2022 began. The members’ vote was overwhelmingly in favour of going on strike. Over 90 per cent of the votes cast supported taking strike action, with more than 80 per cent of the ULFA members casting ballots. The one-sided nature of the vote provides a strong mandate to ULFA and sends a sharp message to the university administration.
ULFA membership consists of all U of L academic staff, including about 500 faculty and instructors and approximately 100 sessional (contract) lecturers. U of L students have rallied to support ULFA and solidarity messages have poured in from other faculty associations and unions. This is no surprise as contract disputes are also ongoing at Mount Royal University (Calgary), the University of Alberta and Athabasca University. Since the ULFA strike began, rallies have been held both in Lethbridge and across the province, manifesting the same strong support shown for the previous strike won by Concordia (Edmonton) faculty.
When ULFA went on strike, ULFA and the university had been locked in bargaining for over 600 days, with the university dragging their heels on everything. The situation is the same at a number of other Alberta universities where the basic employer strategy seems to be to bargain as slowly as possible, perhaps hoping for a sympathetic mediator. Some suspect that the UCP government is giving secret bargaining mandates to the universities; it seems more than coincidental that all employers began by demanding faculty take a three per cent wage rollback. Also, in August 2019, the UCP blitzkrieged Alberta’s post-secondary institutions by implanting their minions into Board of Governor’s positions, including appointing new UCP-friendly board chairs, so the government could have a strong influence over board decision-making.
At University of Lethbridge, as is often the case, the financial proposals are a major sticking point. A complication is that each side seems to be giving different numbers as a basis for their proposals. Also, as usual, the university is moaning about the need for “fiscal restraint” in an attempt to drive down wage demands even though UCP Premier Kenney and the financial pundits are loudly bragging about the province’s “economic recovery.” Another important factor is that the cost of living has risen 4.8 per cent in the past year, which means that any wage increase less than 4.8 per cent is a de facto rollback.
The strike is one by-product of the vicious and ongoing UCP cuts to the post-secondary education budget. University of Lethbridge saw its 2021/22 operating and program support base grant reduced by 5.8 per cent ($5.7 million). Overall, the province budgeted only $4.608 billion for all post-secondary institution operations in 2021-22, a nine per cent cut from $5.046 billion in 2019-20. The budget also shows that the amount of post-secondary education’s financing outside of the province’s contribution is expected to increase from 47 per cent in 2019-20 to 52 per cent by 2023-24. A major component of this will be increased student tuition fees, a direct attack on students’ right to post-secondary education.
Both in Alberta and across Canada there is a rumbling in the post-secondary sector due to the sharpening of the contradictions caused by decades of cuts to social programs. Aside from what is happening in Alberta, at the moment both Acadia University and Ontario Technical University are on strike, 16,000 professors, counsellors, instructors and librarians at all 24 colleges in Ontario are working to rule, and the University of Manitoba struck for 35 days, settling on December 7, 2021.
With their strike, the ULFA faculty are defending their rights and those of their students, just as the faculty at Concordia Edmonton (CUEFA) did, emphasizing once again that faculty working conditions are students’ learning conditions. ULFA, CUEFA, and all their supporters across the province and the country are also standing up for the right to education and are fighting hard for the public education system upon which the future of the whole society, especially the youth, depends.
Education is a Right! Increase Funding to Education!
(Workers’ Forum, posted February 17, 2022. Photos: ULFA, AFL.)