The Alberta Court of Appeal has ruled in favour of faculty in a recent case concerning membership in the bargaining unit. The details are complex and a bit unusual because Alberta's post-secondary institutions are not governed by standard labour legislation, but by labour legislation-type provisions embedded in various acts governing universities, public colleges and technical institutes.
Since the three types of legislation give identical powers over the faculty associations to boards of governors, what happens at colleges applies equally to universities, and technical institutes.
Boards of governors determine who is to be considered "academic staff" and who, therefore, is a member of the faculty association. The acts require that if the boards contemplate any change in status of a faculty association member, there must be "consultation" with the faculty association.
In the case upon which the appeal court just ruled, a librarian at Lakeland College (a public college located in NE Alberta) was removed from the bargaining unit. The faculty association challenged the ruling in the courts, the board of governors responded, and a sequence of administrations and faculty associations from universities, technical institutes, and other colleges all took intervenor status.
The case was lost at the Court of Queen's Bench but when it went to appeal, the appeal court found in favour of the faculty member and against the board of governors.
The judgement contains some sweeping statements that constrain the way boards of governors can act in determining who is and is not an "academic faculty" member. The court ruled that redesignation of status cannot be used to circumvent the collective agreement provisions of the acts by popping members out of the collective agreements without following due process.
The judgement also establishes stringent definitions of what constitutes proper consultation which will become the expected standard in any other cases that might arise. Faculty associations will be able to measure boards' actions against the definitions of consultation that are found in this judgement.
The court also sets a wide definition of "academic" functions, including the functions of librarians, which may also serve as a useful precedent both in Alberta and elsewhere.
The Association of Academic Staff: University of Alberta was the only university faculty association to become an intervenor. It did so only because the University of Alberta board of governors first chose to take intervenor status.
AAS:UA received assistance with its considerable legal costs from the Confederation of Alberta Faculty Associations (at the Queen's Court level) and from CAUT (at the Court of Appeal level) because of the importance of this case to the future of university collective bargaining across Alberta.
Scott Grills is President of the Confederation of Alberta Faculty Associations.