First reading of Bill 7, An Act to Enhance Post-Secondary Academic Bargaining, began yesterday. 

The Act, if eventually passed, impacts faculty associations, graduate student-workers, and postdoctoral fellows. The Act will bring Alberta in compliance with the 2015 Supreme Court decision that guarantees Canadian workers the right to strike. Post-Secondary employers will now have to negotiate essential service agreements with labour associations on campus (these agreements are already being negotiated with unions in other sectors of Alberta’s economy). 

The new Act gives Alberta academic workers the same labour rights that exist in other provinces, and brings an end to compulsory arbitration where contracts and costs are delivered by an arbitrator (the old PC system has been illegal for 2 years because of the aforementioned Supreme Court decision). 

The University of Calgary Faculty Association disagrees that the old system is now illegal because of the Supreme Court decision, but they are flat-out wrong. This won’t stop them from developing a media and ad campaign in the coming weeks. I suspect the Wildrose opposition will be happy to join this misinformation campaign and call the NDP ideological for complying with the Supreme Court. 

There is, however, one legitimate criticism of the new Act. 

Since Alberta schools have historically had a compulsory arbitration system, and not a strike/lockout system, our academic staff associations don’t have strike funds built up. The NDP didn’t put a transition period in the Act, so the academic workers at the 7 schools currently in bargaining are now at a disadvantage at the bargaining table. 

Since the University of Alberta delayed bargaining with my association, the AASUA, for 2 years in the last round of bargaining, I am concerned about the unfair advantage the lack of transition period gives to post-secondary institutions as employers (full disclosure, I’m not a prof, I work at a research institute on campus, and our collective agreement already provides me with little protection at work because of significant loopholes in the contract). 

And trust me, academic staff associations aren’t radical labour groups just waiting to go on strike (this is not to say regular unions go on strike unnecessarily, despite what the rightwing says about the people who brought us such radical things as the weekend and child labour laws).

Jason Kenney might think university profs are turning students into communists, but in my experience of teaching classes from 2008 to 2014 my colleagues and I generally found it hard to get students to do course readings let alone lead the fabled revolution. 

The bottom line is the NDP should have included a transition period and I hope this oversight on their part doesn’t enable employers to reduce the income of workers or do irreparable damage to contract terms and conditions. It isn’t the contracts of tenured profs we need to be concerned about, but the growing number precariously employed contract teachers and researchers on our campuses are vulnerable. 

We contract workers may need your support and solidarity soon more than we generally need it on an ongoing basis because of the precariousness of our employment.