The Right to Strike in Alberta

MRFA members may be asking how we got to the point of needing to call a strike vote and perhaps even moreso, how we can even consider calling for one. You may be remembering the days when the MRFA and other faculty associations in our province weren’t allowed to strike and many of you might be questioning what changed. 

It is important to remember that in the early 2000’s faculty associations did have the right to strike and in fact, when the MRFA held a strike vote around 2003 the MRFA members voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action.  It was as a result of this strike vote that we saw immediate movement at the bargaining table and a new collective agreement was able to be ratified.  

For those of you who do not follow politics closely,  it is important to note that in late 2003, the Alberta government made a legislative change and universities, colleges etc. in our province would now fall under the Post-Secondary Learning Act, SA 2003 (PSLA).  This document received Royal Assent on December 4,  2003.

This piece of legislation is silent on whether or not strikes are permitted, however it does make reference in a couple of instances to the Labour Relations Code and the Labour Relations Board;  and makes further reference to faculty associations as the bargaining agent for academic staff.

 Also  s. 90 of the PSLA explicitly states that the Employment Standards Code does not apply to ….e) the academic staff members of a public post-secondary institution.  So one can only wonder what legislation governs the employment relationship when none is explicitly stated.  (Thank goodness for our collective agreement.)

Here’s what changed:

In 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) rendered a 5 – 2 decision in favour of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour.  The condensed version of the decision of the SCC reads:

In a 5-2 majority decision, the Supreme Court held that the right of employees to participate in strike action for the purpose of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment is constitutionally protected under s. 2(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.Jan 30, 2015

While this decision is not directly related to the post-secondary education sector, we know that Supreme Court decisions apply in all provinces and territories and they take precedence over provincial legislation. Therefore, in 2015, the right to strike became undeniable for unionized   workers. 

I have heard that there are some MRFA members who have a hard time thinking of themselves as unionized workers.  So I ask you… what really differentiates us from the thousands of other workers in municipal government, healthcare and public education?  Many of those workers earned advanced education degrees, they collect paycheques funded by taxpayer dollars, they enjoy well established defined benefit plans (these hardly exist anymore in non-unionized workplaces) and they are represented by a bargaining agent that works tirelessly on their behalf.  How are the academic staff at a publicly-funded post secondary institution any different?

When you have the chance to demonstrate your support of the negotiating team,  the faculty association and staff, I hope you can see your way clear to voting YES.   It is our legal right and not one we take lightly.