Alberta Politics
Faculty and supporters at Edmonton’s Concordia University form a picket line Jan. 4. (Photo: Facebook/Christina Gray).

Private Edmonton university sees the first faculty strike in Alberta history – it likely won’t be the last

Posted on January 06, 2022, 2:04 am
9 mins

With labour disputes looming at three Alberta public universities, it came as a surprise when the faculty association at a small private university in Edmonton became the first in the province’s history to walk off the job in a legal strike.

But at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, some of the 82 full-time professors, librarians, lab instructors and other academic employees of Concordia University of Edmonton formed a picket line outside the Magrath Mansion, the historic structure recently acquired by the university in the Alberta capital’s Highlands neighbourhood.

Athabasca University Labour Studies Professor Bob Barnetson (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The Concordia University of Edmonton Faculty Association filed legal strike notice on Dec. 22, telling the university’s administration that if there was no deal by the New Year there would be a strike. After bargaining through the holiday break without an agreement, the faculty walked.

Sessional instructors at CUE are not in the bargaining unit, but the administration immediately shut down all classes, halted the winter term, and told the sessionals they won’t be paid. 

Most people who pay attention to Alberta’s post-secondary institutions probably would have bet the first faculty strike in the province’s history would be at Athabasca University, nominally located in the town of Athabasca, the University of Lethbridge, or Calgary’s Mount Royal University. 

After all, faculty associations at both the U of L and MRU are now in formal mediation, part of a process required to get them to a place they can legally exercise the strike weapon to get a fair deal. 

At AU, the faculty association has been in negotiations for nine months without the administration so much as tabling a full offer or even saying what its monetary position is. The association expects to reach an essential service agreement on Feb. 1, after which it too can apply for formal mediation. 

Meanwhile, back at CUE, the secularized former Lutheran seminary accredited under the Post-Secondary Learning Act appears to have no shortage of money or worries about attracting enough students.

Unlike public institutions that have been hit hard by the Kenney Government’s brutal cuts to post-secondary education, enrolment is up at CUE – currently at about 2,500 students – and cash is plentiful. 

Concordia University of Edmonton Faculty Association President Glynis Price (Photo: Twitter/ Glynis Price).

Like most of Alberta’s private universities, CUE received no cuts in funding from the Alberta Government. It’s been able to record a combined operating surplus of close to $20 million over the past two years. Its bargaining team isn’t bound by the secret government mandates imposed by United Conservative Party legislation to interfere with good-faith bargaining at public sector post-secondary institutions. 

It even had enough cash on hand to pay $1.75 million to buy the drafty looking mansion down the street from its small campus – helped along by a $1.425-million gift from the mansion’s previous owners, who’d had it on the market for a year without a sale. The university hopes to get the property rezoned from residential. 

So you would have thought, observed Athabasca University Labour Studies Professor Bob Barnetson, “that Concordia could offer more than zeros” – which he noted was the last offer made public by the administration on social media. 

CUEFA President Glynis Price said the association’s “reasonable salary offers” were rejected by the university. 

A statement she provided on the strike notes that “we are at the bottom of the sector across Canada when matched against comparator universities. … We are seeking fair compensation that is comparable to those professors at similar institutions in Canada.” 

Concordia University of Edmonton Chancellor Stephen Mandel (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The statement also said the university’s bylaws were recently changed by the Board of Governors so President Tim Loreman’s salary would be “guided by the compensation paid to presidents of an agreed set of comparator universities. 

“We would be happy to have our salaries guided by the same set of comparator universities,” the statement added.

Also at issue are faculty intellectual property rights, discipline, and workload, especially for librarians, lab instructors and placement co-ordinators. 

Perhaps CUE’s administration tried playing hardball and discovered CUEFA’s 82 members were harder to intimidate than expected. If so, they need to find a way to get back to the bargaining table. After all, a long strike is going to have a serious impact on the university’s revenue, which is heavily dependent on tuition, including from foreign students. 

Maybe CUE Chancellor Stephen Mandel – a former Edmonton mayor, Progressive Conservative cabinet minister, and Alberta Party leader – could have a chat with Dr. Loreman and the board to persuade them to make a better offer. 

That would a reasonable use of Mr. Mandel’s political skills, don’t you think?  

As expected, no delay to return of in-person K-12 classes Monday

No surprise, tens of thousands of Alberta K-12 students will be returning to their classes in person on Monday, Omicron variant or no Omicron variant. 

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange (Photo: Screenshot of Alberta Government video).

Education Minister Adriana Lagrange announced the return to regular classes “with the added safety of access to rapid tests and medical-grade masks that will be distributed through schools” at a news conference and COVID-19 update with Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw yesterday afternoon. 

While critics did not dispute the benefits of in-person instruction, their criticisms focused on inadequate safety measures, notwithstanding Ms. LaGrange’s claims.

“I think we’re going to see a repeat of what we saw last year … when we were in class, and out of class, in class, and out of class,” said Alberta Teachers Association President Jason Schilling after Ms. LaGrange’s newser yesterday. 

“The association has not been consulted on any of these plans for return to school,” he said. 

Opposition Education Critic Sarah Hoffman shared Mr. Schilling’s assessment.

Measures adopted by other Canadian provinces to promote safer classroom learning have been ignored by the UCP Government, she said. “No HEPA filters. No N95 masks. No carbon dioxide monitors. No contact tracing. No reporting to parents if their child was sitting next to another student with a positive test that day. No funding for the inevitable demand for additional staff. The UCP plan is setting schools up to close.” 

“Albertans cannot trust the UCP to keep their kids safe,” she concluded. 

24 Comments to: Private Edmonton university sees the first faculty strike in Alberta history – it likely won’t be the last

  1. Anonymous

    January 6th, 2022

    With these pretend conservatives and Reformers in the UCP, the Best Winter Ever, is now here. The head honcho of the UCP, is a Liberal turned Reformer, like his hero, Ralph Klein was. Anything that is private for profit, he will support, while the public services get gutted. Where is the sense in that?

    Reply
    • Alan K. Spiller

      January 6th, 2022

      Anonymous. A lawyer friend said it best . There is nothing dumber than an Alberta senior going around bad mouthing Liberals while he is supporting one in Ralph Klein. Now they are doing it with Kenney, just proving how stupid they are. Klein always bragged to our family that he was a Liberal and his daughter Angie confirmed it in her 2015 interview. Somewhere in our family there are pictures of our mother holding Angie when she was a new baby. Klein’s mother Flo and my mother were good friends. I never considered him to be a Liberal and he certainly wasn’t a Conservative. He fit the Reform Party dictatorship mold to a T. Preston Manning and Stephen Harper must have been proud of him.

      I find it hilarious that every time there seems to be a political crisis in Edmonton somehow Stephen Mandel seems to be involved. Edmontonians certainly know what a disaster he is.

      For the first 17 years of my life I lived two blocks from Concordia college. Three of my best friends fathers were professors there. We spent countless hours skating on their skating rink, and playing basketball in their gym when the students weren’t using them.

      Reply
  2. Bill Malcolm

    January 6th, 2022

    School re-opening policy is a hot topic all across the country. The same can be said of RAT kits. What I cannot get over is the disconnect that exists in both the public’s and politicians’ minds between old-style Covid and Omicron. This latest variant is basically out of control, it’s so transmissible. Worse, rapid tests are apparently only reliable if they return a positive with Omicron — this was known a week ago, when, sighing with minor relief, I exited a pharmacy having got the booster shot, hopped in my car and CBC Radio informed me of this “news”. So my laboriously obtained little plastic bag of five kits had been reduced to the value of a coin toss, unless I had somehow missed the signs of a bad “cold”, likely for an elderly person if not a younger one. Even Premier Higgs of NB had worked that logic out when he came down with the virus last week.

    Every province but Nova Scotia, where I reside, had not used the rapid tests in any quantity whatsoever before Omicron. Here we’ve had Mobile rapid tests going strong since May, and it helped identify in particular, Delta hot spots. It kept our total infection numbers low. The rest of the moo-cow premiers merely sat on their hands and did SFA and/or imagined Nirvana like kenney last June. Identifying “hot spots” now means eff all. Absolutely eff all. Omicron is everywhere and hot spots by definition do not exist. Try to get that logic through most people’s heads, and you’ll fail — minds are applying Delta infection logic to Omicron and haven’t really grasped what’s happening. At all. So the rush to get RAT kits is now essentially a fool’s errand in this wave. This technology isn’t going to help much. Politicians seem unable to either understand it themselves or to transmit this logic to the populace.

    True to dumb form, O’Toole is ranting about Trudeau not supplying enough RAT kits. The fact that Ontario and Alberta did essentially bugger all with what they had in stock of their share of the 190 million kits initially available until a couple of weeks ago, is handily forgotten by this intellectual fool and non-leader. Bugger him and all Cons who give not a flying eff about people, never did, never will, and want to be in power to screw things up even worse than the Liberals.

    Then there’s the role of media. All we hear about is the dire situation in Quebec and Ontario, and the hand-wringing about school openings those political dopes are agonizing over, always a day late and a dollar short. So smaller provinces’ populaces get bombarded about the situation in Central Canada and assume things are like that everywhere, when such is not necessarily the case. But herd panic is contagious, much like putting faith in RAT kits when it’s not now justified for negative results and ordering up hundreds of millions more of them anyway to assuage out-of-date thinking.

    There’s similar BS about KN95 masks. Yapping doctor-heads get on TV touting them, apparently completely UNAWARE that most on the market are fakes, despite CBC TV Marketplace’s debunking of them a mere two weeks ago. That is dumb irresponsibility at its finest. You try a typical one and they simply do not fit properly. As I type this, the earnest docs are on TV going at it again on the morning news and CBC Radio. Sure, a good N95 like a 3M or a few other makes would be great, but the vast majority offer illusory safety. Consumer protection laws? They went away in the 1980s for all practical purposes in the sense of any government agency enforcing them.

    I would hope that progressives not typecast themselves in stereotypical moulds on Covid as entrenched as those of the right, and re-educate and update themselves on Omicron as the new conditions warrant. Hurling epithets at the political opposition won’t help people in general or assist in the way out of this mess. A dose of reality from our so-called “leaders” is beyond due. Nohing much is going to help, so limit your personal interactions and do not depend on Public Health to save you. Vaccines seem to limit dire consequences, but are notoriously “leaky” in that they do not prevent Omicron infection, nor limit infected people passing on the virus willy nilly. What happened before Omicron is simply irrelevant to the here and now, so assigning much blame and dredging up the failures of past provincial performances will not help. Give your head a shake and address the situation as it presently stands, which means staying away from other people as much as you can. Not much else can be done, and relying on a RAT test negative as a reason to stroll around without a care in the world that you’re not infecting anyone else is about as stupid as can be.

    Reply
    • Alan K. Spiller

      January 6th, 2022

      Great comments Bill . To think Albertans were so stupid they tried to elect this fake conservative Erin O’Toole as prime minister. Thank god you easterners are a lot smarter, and you are. He is as dumb as all these other Reformers, but Albertans don’t appear to be smart enough to understand that. As my late father would say they vote for the word conservative and don’t give a damn who is behind it. Since the election the major thing O’Toole has been whining about is the cost of living and trying to blame it on Trudeau , just too stupid to realize that all of North America is being effected.

      The former Conservative MLAs that I knew from the Lougheed era certainly did. Don’t ever trust a reformer was their cry. Looking after their own well-being and that of their rich friends is all they care about. Spreading lies is what they do best. Lougheed’s energy minister Bill Dickie was a brother in-law of one of my uncles.

      The financial mess they have created in Alberta starting with Ralph Klein is sickening and Albertans showing how stupid they really are expected NDP Rachael Notley to fix in only four years what these fools created in twenty five. There was nothing smart about ignoring what Alaska and Norway have accomplished with their oil and tax wealth, but Albertans did.

      Reply
    • Kang

      January 6th, 2022

      Bill Malcolm: On the N95 masks: here is a link to a non-profit organization about masks which includes links to manufacturers of Health Canada approved N95 masks.
      https://masks4canada.org/

      And, here is an impartial Alberta site about Covid: https://popab.ca/

      We’ve used N95s in our business for years and you soon learn how to fit them properly. Basically, if they puff in and out when you breathe, you have a good fit.

      It is never too late to adopt a zero-Covid policy, but the longer we delay, the more people will suffer long term damage.

      “Remember Covid is airborne so wear the best mask you can get.”

      Reply
  3. Dave White

    January 6th, 2022

    I had to chuckle at Mandel having a word to suggest giving a little to the admin. Hey it’s the free market system and privitization means underpaying employees. As a member of this government he would know that.

    Reply
  4. Carlos

    January 6th, 2022

    Does anyone trust the UCP for anything other than bullying and disrespect?
    These people are chosen by God to punish us born sinners.
    I can only imagine what these people think of us mortals just by the way they treat us. It reminds me of
    the way the church treated our native peoples in the residential schools.
    May 2022 bring the fall of these miserable beings that need to be replaced by unenlightened people like you and me.

    Reply
  5. ENZ

    January 6th, 2022

    Are we surprised at this incompetent buffoonery from our Education Minister, and this government? We shouldn’t be, as they know there will be no consequences from their rural base.

    Kenney’s govt loses/wastes $$$ like drunken sailors – people still support UCP. Kenney/Shandro attack doctors and nurses, and totally botch the Covid response – rural Albertans still support UCP. Educ Minister Lagrange does nothing, or actively hinders Alberta students and teachers – a lot of people still doggedly support UCP. Govt messes up practically every file, but continues to attack Trudeau, Notley, and anyone daring to criticize them, as Alberta haters. Alberta conservative response – “UCP is fighting for us!”

    NDP support remains in the low 40% range. Unless the right wing vote splits again, the appalling UCP (perhaps not with Kenney?) will once more be the govt, grovelling to do the resource companies and conservative special interest groups bidding, likely in as confrontational a way as possible.

    It seems as though until the rural vote loses all their doctors, until they have family members who die, until their water is poisoned, until their land is expropriated, until O & G fades away, until their kids school has class sizes of 50, until what?? . . . they will continue to vote the same way. The majority of rural people in Alberta are loyal to a fault.

    Over 80% of Albertans live in urban settings, yet make up only approx 60% of the Legislative seats. Rural voters have a disproportionate say in who calls the shots, the UCP know it, and are in no hurry to change it.

    I despair for this province – any other jurisdiction would vote these staggeringly incompetent losers out. UCP rural voters are like loyal old dogs, just happy to be getting a biscuit. I expect nothing to change. The UCP will not be held accountable.

    Reply
  6. Abs

    January 6th, 2022

    Alberta university faculty members are headed in the same direction as Ontario’s. When the guys running the provinces have no education beyond high school, it’s their own limited world experience that guides policy. Everyone should be part of the gig economy, in their view. They only see value in physical labour, not the information economy of tomorrow. Why should Canadians be anything but hewers of wood and drawers of water? It worked for more than a hundred years, and it still works for them personally, doesn’t it? Dumbing down the masses to their level — now that’s something they can stand behind.

    Yes, I did catch the latest chapter of UCP press conference theatre yesterday. Question: have any 12-year-old Ontario kids with a YouTube channel been admitted to the Alberta Legislature press gallery lately? They might be able to up the game for people like Keean Bexte and Sheila Gunn Reid. In 2020, Bexte declared on Twitter, “The Press Gallery’s monopoly has been busted and a new day is dawning in Canadian media!” He has no idea what he unleashed. Does he even have his Hall pass any more, now that he’s divorced Rebel? This is Alberta, where tomorrow’s stunt will be more stupefying than yesterday’s. Expect the unexpected.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      January 6th, 2022

      Abs: My theory is that kid’s a little tiny grownup in disguise. His questions are way better than David Staples, and he sounds more grown up to boot. DJC

      Reply
      • Carlos

        January 6th, 2022

        Well I am not the only one that does not like David Staples

        Reply
      • Phlogiston

        January 6th, 2022

        Setting David Staples as the standard is setting a low bar indeed.

        Reply
  7. Bret Larson

    January 6th, 2022

    I dont think the UCP has suggested you cant follow your heart with respect to what pandemic response you think is necessary.

    Go ahead, hide underneath your bed for another couple months.

    Just dont expect the jobs that need to be done today to still be there after you feel comfortable.

    Reply
  8. Just Me

    January 6th, 2022

    Mandel seems to jumping from appointment to appointment these days.

    That patronage trough must be bulging with CON arses.

    Reply
  9. tom

    January 6th, 2022

    Dave, your comment about the disparities between funding for private as opposed to public universities in Alberta will likely also apply to private as opposed to public providers in a 2-tier medical system. In today’s Globe, Robyn Urback advocates for just such a system using the pandemic as a pretext. Her insistence that such a system could be modelled on European, rather than American, healthcare is the same zombie argument used since Ralph Klein’s failed third-way gambit. Does anyone seriously believe Doug Ford or Scott Moe or Jason “Alberta is Canada’s Texas” Kenney would try to emulate the Europeans? I don’t think even Ms. Urback, or the angry comments section she apparently brought over with her from her previous National Post gig, believes that.

    Reply
  10. Dave

    January 6th, 2022

    First of all, some credit to Concordia for its role in preserving and maintaining that beautiful historic building in its neighbourhood. This is contrast to a larger and more well known educational institution in Edmonton that has seemed determined for decades to mow down as many of its nearby historic neighbourhood buildings as possible.

    However, I agree Concordia can and should do better in setting the salaries for its staff. Its current circumstances do not support a zero percent increase. It is also disingenuous to ignore comparables for staff salaries, while using them for senior adminstrative ones. This is exactly the sort of thing that infuriates a lot of people and inflames situations like this. So, the administration only has themselves to blame for this problem.

    Reply
  11. Alan K. Spiller

    January 6th, 2022

    For the first few years of my retirement and I have been retired for 29 years I had coffee each each week day morning with two retired doctors who had both worked under a two tiered health care system in the U.K. and loved it. It made them buckets of money, however they both agreed that it would never work in Alberta or Canada and their reasons made perfect sense.
    ( 1) We don’t have nearly enough doctors and nurses to make it work. They blamed politicians for treating them like dirt and driving them off , creating this huge shortage we have.
    (2)Our populations aren’t concentrated like they are in Europe . After being in Europe I certainly believe that. I was shocked to see Rome has a population of over 8 million.
    (3) This one was the one that concerned them the most because it would cost people their lives. There is no way you would be able to keep doctors and nurses working and living in rural Alberta if they could make a lot more money working in the private hospitals, and clinics in the cities. It will definitely cost people their lives, and will literally destroy the public system for people who can’t afford it.

    When Klein tried to force us into it , it got him kicked out of office, yet this is one of the major pushes for these damn Reformers and they still all use it. Trying to trick people into it hasn’t worked and I doubt it will but they keep tying.

    Reply
    • jerrymacgp

      January 8th, 2022

      Mr Spiller: thank you for your contribution to this discussion, and in particular for your point (3) about rural Alberta — which also includes, to many who live in Calgary & Edmonton, the small cities outside the orbit of the two metropolitan centres: Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Red Deer, Fort McMurray/RMWB, & Grande Prairie (where I happen to live).

      Even already established steps towards privatization in health care haven’t penetrated to rural Alberta. Look at Home Care, for example: in much of Alberta, AHS Case Managers, mostly RNs, assess clients and approve in-home care services to be delivered by a private, contracted provider, which employs the health care aides and other staff who actually go out to clients’ homes. But not in AHS’ North Zone, where most of those health care aides are actual AHS employees, likely due to the widely dispersed population — about 775,000 in a Zone the size of the Irish Republic, with only two major population centres each under 100,000 & demographically much younger than the average — which does not offer profitability to a private contractor.

      Remember when the Klein Government sold off the old Grace Hospital in Calgary to a private operator, which not that long thereafter went bankrupt & had to be bailed out by the taxpayer? You can bet investors in such places will focus on either Calgary or Edmonton, not the rural or remote North. But it will be the rural & remote North that suffers as physicians, nurses, and other professionals seeking a calmer, more predictable lifestyle for their families get sucked into the black hole of private care that pushes the most complex & costliest cases away.

      Reply
      • jerrymacgp

        January 9th, 2022

        Our host has gently reminded me that the Calgary hospital that was closed, then sold to a private operator — which later went bankrupt — was actually the Grace, not the Holy Cross. My error.

        Reply
  12. Phlogiston

    January 6th, 2022

    Well, progress of a sort. At least the CUE faculty is allowed to go on strike. Back in early 90’s, when I was a tutor at Athabasca University and the tutors formed a union to try to address serious inequities in the workplace, the provincial legislation would not allow us to go on strike. Instead, we had to go to binding arbitration. Initially, I and others were worried that the university was in the cat-bird seat, given the prevailing belief that the arbitration panel was likely to favor the employer. The university certainly seemed to think so because its representatives did not bargain in good faith. With the excellent assistance and counsel of Simon Renouf (who sometimes posts comments to this blog), we held the course and did well in the arbitration. If I remember correctly, in addition to achieving a collective agreement, we got a 20 percent or more bump in pay. I wish the same success to the faculty of Concordia University.

    Reply
  13. Athabascan

    January 6th, 2022

    I care about workers’ rights no matter who they work for.

    However, you lost me at private university. At a time when venerable public universities in Alberta are struggling, it’s had to care about a private university that probably has no right to exist.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      January 7th, 2022

      This isn’t a defence of private educational institutions, although I certainly support the right to collective bargaining and fair treatment for employees of any kind of educational facility. That said, this story, which mostly got the usual he-said/she-said coverage from mainstream media, did provide an opportunity to discuss the context of what’s happening at public sector post-secondaries. DJC

      Reply
    • Phlogiston

      January 7th, 2022

      It does not matter whether it is a private or a public university – it is about the treatment of employees. That said, the university still receives funding from the government, so it is private only in the sense that they take taxpayers money with less accountability than the public universities. The issue is with the funding model. The university would be unlikely to survive without public, taxpayer funding. Note that the Kenney government did not cut funding for CUE, nor did it cut funding for The King’s University, another private university, this one informed by a Christian Reformed Church ethos. But, the Kenney government did cut funding for the public universities.

      And, if it weren’t bad enough that Concordia University is awash in cash and refuses to pay competitive salaries, they are making, it appears, damaging cuts. The Concordia Community Chorus was cut this year to the dismay and disappointment of many. This chorus has been an integral member of the amateur choral groups in this city for many years. It has provided benefits to many. I thought that the reason the chorus was cut had something to do with government budget cuts and having to, perforce, make hard choices. It is more painful to learn that the university has ample cash, and that this choice was not necessary. This tells me that a bunch of philistines and luddites are in charge, no surprise, really.

      Reply

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