ULGA Interview w/ Jackson Ham & Luke Saville

Posted February 11, 2022 at 3:45pm

Interviewees: Jackson Ham, ULGA President & Luke Saville, ULGA Vice President
Interviewer: Michael Doherty, CKXU Program Director
Transcribed by Genna Bourchier

Interview Transcript

Michael Doherty (MD): This is Michael Doherty here reporting as part of the University of Lethbridge’s collective bargaining situation here on CKXU 88.3 FM. I am here with:

Jackson Ham (JH): Hi, I’m Jackson. I’m the President of the ULGA. And I’m joined with Luke, Luke. You want to introduce yourself?

Luke Saville (LS): My name is Luke. I’m the Vice President of the ULGA. It’s nice to be here. Excited to chat with you. 

MD: Thank you. I gave you a list of questions to look over, so we’re just going to hop right into them. You’ve both already described who your organizations are and who you are, but let’s do a quick overview of what their purpose is in regards and relation to the University.

JH: Yeah. We represent Graduate Student workers specifically, so we’re actually a formal trade union on campus. We undergo collective bargaining for our members, represent them, should any disputes in the workplace come up or health issues in the workplace, as well as we act as an advocacy group for our members in general. You’d likely have seen solidarity letters come out from us in relation to the Concordia faculty strike, as well as our own strike here on campus. That’s kind of what we do. We advocate for employees who are also graduate students. 

MD: Luke, do you want to expand? 

LS: Like Jackson said, our specific mandate is to support Graduate Student workers. Some of the examples of that might be the TAs who help teach courses or help mark undergraduate courses. There’s also a lot of our members doing research on campus in labs, they’re typically known as RAs, or Research Assistants. There’s also some non-teaching roles for our TAs, and that can be any various role that we agree upon within our collective agreement. There’s some variation to it, but that’s generally who we represent.

MD: All right. And then the next one is a two-parter. What is your organization’s mission and values and how are you upholding your organization’s mission statement during this?  

JH: We touched a bit on that in our last question, our mission and our values is to ensure that we have an equitable and fair collective agreement in which our members use and will operate from as they work. One of our biggest concerns as Graduate Student workers is the power dynamic that we face between supervisor – which could be both thesis and work supervisor – compared to grad student. Making sure that we have a strong collective agreement ensures that our members work in a safe and comfortable environment, as well as the obvious things like ensuring that our members are paid a fair wage. Those are our mission and values. We uphold that by engaging in the collective bargaining process, which we’re doing right now, as well as advocating for them outside of the collective bargaining. We do things like attend student-led rallies, as well as the rallies hosted by the Faculty Association. We work in solidarity with the other labor unions on campus – ULFA, AUPE, the Postdoc Association, as well as across Lethbridge. We’ve collaborated on things with the unions at the Lethbridge College. I also work closely with the counterparts at the University of Alberta and University of Calgary that do the same job that Luke and I do. That way we make sure we’re also fighting post-secondary education cuts and labor issues as a unified front across the province. We do a lot of advocacy work as well as directly engaging in the collective bargaining process to ensure that our members are getting a fair and equitable collective agreement.

MD: Luke, any additions to that? 

LS: No, that sounds pretty good. As a labor union, all the labor union stuff still stands. We try and, as Jackson said, bargain for a fair collective agreement and try and improve the rights of our members and ensure that they’re being treated fairly in the workplace. A big focus right now for our collective agreement is ensuring a very accessible workplace – one that’s focused on trying to prevent harassment or anything like that. We’re trying to ensure that our members are comfortable working, like working, and can work well and effectively.

JH: The other large mandate that we have right now is to make sure our collective agreement is representative of all demographics and all types of employees. That’s another big mission and value that we’re holding and practicing is making sure that all types of members are being represented and having their voice heard and included in the collective agreement, because there is quite a lot of diversity in students. Of course, there’s quite a lot of diversity in student workers as well.

MD: I think we covered this one with what you just said, but what are, if there are any additional intended outcomes and goals for the current collective bargaining situation.

JH: We have some very specific goals that I won’t get into here, but everybody can access those on our website, which is just www.ulga.ca. I’m sure we’ll circle around to that website later, but you can see the direct articles we’ve exchanged at the table. They do have a strong focus on equity and inclusion, so if you’re looking for the specifics feel free to check out our website. 

MD: What, if any, services does your organization currently provide that will be impacted by the current situation?

LS: Sorry, just to clarify, when you say situation, are you talking about collective bargaining?

MD: Sorry, the collective bargaining situation, yes. 

LS: I don’t think any of the services that we provide will be impacted currently by the collective bargaining. We’re really trying to ensure that it’s done in a fair process, and then obviously going to the table in good faith and ensuring that we do get a fair agreement. Generally, if someone of our membership wanted to come to us for agreements, or any support or representation that they need regarding the workplace, we would be happy to do that regardless – even during bargaining. Nothing should be impacted during a bargaining process. During our bargaining process we hope not to bargain away any of our services. We definitely are looking forward to strengthening some of the services we might be able to provide to our members through that process as well.

MD: How can students and campus members get in touch with a representative from your organization?

JH: The easiest way to get information on what we do and who we are is to check out our website which again, is www.ulga.ca. There you’ll find ways to get in touch more specifically, but you can always reach out to myself at my email, which is [email protected]. That’s the best way to get in touch and learn more about what we do.  

MD: All right, we’re going to move into some questions about the current collective bargaining situation right now. For an official stance, what is your general position on the current collective bargaining situation?

JH: To be clear, you’re asking about the ULFA collective bargaining right, and not our own? 

MD: Yes, correct. 

JH: We very much stand in solidarity with ULFA. As a fellow union on campus, it’s important that we work together and stand strong together. We are supporting and standing in solidarity with ULFA – we’ve signed a joint letter which you can find on our website stating our support with the other labor unions on campus. We’ve also written a letter in collaboration with the GSA, the ULSU, the Postdoc Association, and AUPE. I’m hoping I’m not forgetting anybody else, but that letter is to state that we will not engage in teaching or taking over the roles of Faculty, which is another strong way of showing our support for the Faculty Association.

MD: You briefly mentioned at the beginning about your own collective bargaining situations. Would you like to expand on that as well? 

JH: That would be great. We’ve actually been collective bargaining a little bit longer than the Faculty Association. We’ve been without an agreement for coming up to two years in a couple of days. It’s been very slow and we can certainly sympathize with other groups on campus that have experienced the same thing, like ULFA and AUPE with very slow bargaining. COVID of course impacted this, as well as we signed a servicing agreement with PSAC, a national organization that represents and manages unions. That also slowed down the process, but it’s been a very slow process and we’ve had a hard time getting dates and meeting at the table. We’re hoping that we can spend more time at the table bargaining and get an agreement through in a timely manner. Again, for all updates on that, you can look at our website. We provide written updates on bargaining.Check out our website for in-depth comments about the bargaining process. You can always reach out to myself through the website or using my email and I can give you more updates should you be interested in our bargaining process.

MD: All right. And how are you supporting the mental health of your members and the community that you serve during this uncertain time?

JH: It’s definitely been hard for our members, as well as Graduate Students at large, dealing with the online programming as well as the job action done by ULFA. This is a necessary part of the bargaining process for ULFA at this time – we completely understand why they’re doing it. We hope by providing constant and relevant communications with accurate information that we can decrease anxiety for our members. Providing them with the information that they need to continue their work we’re hoping is really reducing the anxiety, and always having an open line of communication should they have any concerns or questions. Our current collective bargaining process is definitely focused on improving health and mental health. We have things in our collective agreement already that are around this, but we’re really trying to make those parts of our collective agreement more robust. We’re always open to communicating with our members about their mental health and to find solutions to accommodate them and their work – whether that be through taking a leave of absence from their employment or working with them to use the University provided mental health services, as our working members are also students of the University. Another way that we’re currently working on improving the mental health of our employees is making sure that they have a reasonable workload that doesn’t push them too hard each week. As Graduate Student workers, we have a lot to juggle with TAing or being a Research Assistant, as well as taking courses trying to complete a thesis. Making sure that the work part of their life is reasonable and manageable is hopefully going to help and improve the mental health of our community. 

MD: Luke, any additions to that? 

LS: Not really, that was what I was also thinking. Generally, we want to put it out there that we want to support our members and make sure that if they ever need help in the workplace that we’re there to help them out. Providing information as much as possible is what we’ve been trying to do, and there’s an open door policy – email us anytime, come chat with us any time and hopefully we can help you in that way. As Jackson talked about, our collective bargaining right now we are putting some language in that we think will really help with juggling your academic responsibilities and your work responsibilities in a more equitable fashion. We can’t get too specific into that, but we’d like to help workers get their hours under control and ensure that they are keeping track of their hours. Perhaps they can look forward to some sort of minimum hour legislation. That’s what we’ve been working on lately. 

MD: So I know you’ve already mentioned your website a couple of times here. Do you have any additional links, websites, or additional information that you would like us to post on our website to get more word out for people?

JH: If you follow the www.ulga.ca website that should provide you with all the information we’ve discussed here. You can see the advocacy we’ve done in the news – we have news articles where we’ve been interviewed on conversations about post-secondary funding and other things, as well as a way to get in touch with us. You can learn a little bit more about Luke and I, and the other members of our team. It’s not just Luke and I that are involved in the union. 

MD: All right, we’re going to move into some future situation questions here, some what ifs. So the first one is, if there’s a picket line or a building on campus that is inaccessible what should someone do if they’re a U of L student, a U of L staff member, a community member accessing services or a third-party organization or business? You can answer as many or as few of those as you would like.

LS: For clarification on this one – when you say accessible, do you mean that a picket line will be blocking someone from accessing? Or is it that someone who has accessibility challenges who can’t access the picket line?

MD: Both.

LS: From what our understanding is the picket lines will generally be around the University campus entrances. The north and south entrance, and outside of the BVC University of Lethbridge campus entrance for Calgary campus. From our understanding non-ULFA members will not be blocked from entrances because we’ve made a statement of not replacing workers. The general decorum is to check in with the picket Captain on your way in, or someone who may stop you – they may give you some literature. From our understanding, they will not be preventing people from accessing the campus. We will be sending out some information to our members about what the procedure is as we have also been asking for clarification. If you cannot access the picket line but you’d like to support the Faculty in their strike, should that happen tomorrow or Thursday, there are lots of opportunities on social media to show support. Sharing on Twitter – you could retweet ULFA’s tweets about some of the updates and that kind of stuff to show support. Also, the President of the University’s email is always open for emails – Mike Mahon’s email. You can send him an email saying that you support ULFA and that they should come to a fair agreement, whatever that may look like. Jackson, do you want to add anything there? 

JH: If you do have any troubles crossing the picket line, and specifically if you’re a Graduate Student worker, do not hesitate to reach out to myself. I have contact information with ULFA Executives and if you’re having trouble crossing the picket line, I don’t think that would be ULFA’s at-large intention. Give me a shout and I can certainly get in touch with the ULFA Executives to make sure that you have an easier time crossing the picket line. The other thing I’ll add is we’ve got signs and the executives for our organization, ULGA, will be out on the picket line as well – feel free to come chat and meet up with us if you want to stand in solidarity on the picket line and grab a sign to show your support. But, if you do have any troubles crossing the line to do your contractual duties, please send me an email and we’ll get that sorted out. 

MD: The next question is how do you feel that the ULFA collective bargaining situation could impact the remainder of the spring semester and as a follow-up, do you think that the GSA’s collective bargaining could have an impact on the Spring semester at all? 

JH: That’s a tricky question. It’s really hard to say, cause it really depends on how long the job action lasts. In Canada, there’s never been a strike that’s canceled an entire semester. Obviously depending on the length, we could have the first year, but I’m hoping that this action will cause the administration to come to a quick and equitable agreement with ULFA. Hopefully this only lasts a couple of weeks, which then might cause the semester to be compressed slightly in terms of the content, or have a slight extension to the semester – whether it’s compressed or extended is up to the administration. It’s hard for us to say but of course we hope that the administration makes this a quick process so that we can all get back to doing what we love, which is teaching and doing research. Could you please remind me of your your second question. I’ve already forgotten. I’m sorry. 

MD: It was basically the same question, but do you think that your collective bargaining will have an effect on the end of this semester? 

JH: Right, thanks. We’ve been bargaining for just about two years now, so there probably won’t be any immediate effects for our members in this Spring semester. We’d like to see this collective bargaining process wrapped up by the Spring semester, but I don’t think that’s going to happen due to not getting time at the table currently – we don’t have a time booked right now, unfortunately. We’ve proposed dates for the end of February, and I think we’re still waiting to hear back from the administration on meeting. In terms of our contract, during the terms of negotiation the existing one rolls over. There won’t be a major effect felt directly by our members this semester due to our ongoing bargaining. Just like they probably have not felt any major effect from it over the last two years. 

MD: Luke, any additions to that?

LS: The idea of losing a whole semester is pretty unprecedented. I can’t imagine the admin would want that. That would probably mean refunding a large amount of tuition, so I think that would be very odd to do. I think students should look forward to being able to finish the semester. We’ll have to see how our collective bargaining goes, but it’s way too early to say whether we will be having any job action as it relates to this collective bargaining session, but hopefully our collective bargaining will be finished soon and we’ll have a nice new agreement for our members.

MD: All right. What steps can any organization take following the current collective bargaining situation to promote on-campus unity? 

JH: There’s lots of ways to get involved, whether that’s joining your local advocacy group committee, joining an executive committee, or even just attending their meetings as well as being present on the picket line. Following this action, be present at any future rallies or joint town halls, really just standing up for what you believe in. That goes a long way, whether that means calling something out on social media, when something’s not right, or saying it out loud, that’s a really important part of being a part of the academy is voicing your opinion when something isn’t right. And like I said, being active. For our members specifically, when we hold town halls it’s so great when our members come out and are involved and are actively being updated on the collective bargaining process. I think that’s the best way. We like to send out lots of emails and I know that can be annoying, but reading our emails and our updates will keep people in the loop. It’ll certainly be an ongoing mission for our team to continue to work with ULFA, with AUPE and other advocacy groups on campus.

MD: All right, moving onto the final question. How will you support your members and the community you serve as we transition out of the current collective bargaining situation and as we continue on with your own?

JH: We’ll continue to collective bargain for as long as the process takes. We’re hoping that this will be a rather swift process now that we have some movement at the table. We’re always communicating to our members in an effort to be transparent about the process at the table, as well as the inner workings of the Executive Committee. We’re always there to support our members with health concerns or grievances. If there’s ever any health issues that come up or harassment issues, anything of that sort, we’re always here. We have the ability to deal with that, and we want to be there for our members to deal with that. We’re here to advocate for Graduate Student employees in any way we can. That goes along with also continuing to lobby against post-secondary education cuts. So we’re going to continue doing our lobbying, continuing our collective bargaining process and continuing to work with the other groups on campus to make sure we stay strong as a unified workforce and advocacy group for our members and the other members that aren’t necessarily paying dues to us. We want to make sure that the University of Lethbridge is a great place for everyone – whether you’re a student, an employee, a researcher, whoever you might be, we want to make sure it’s a great place to work and do research and do schooling. 

MD: Thank you. As we wrap up, are there any points that we went over that you want to expand upon at all? Or any closing statements or additional information that you would like to let out to the world?

LS: Something that I think is really important to think about, and something that ULFA has also been throwing out there a lot, is that the University of Lethbridge isn’t the administration. It’s not the Board of Governors. It’s the undergrad and graduate students and it’s the workers, the instructors, the faculty, staff, graduate student workers… these are the people who make the University of Lethbridge and make up a community. It’s important that we all support each other throughout all of our different experiences here on campus. So far we’ve all done a great job of doing so and I’d like to see that continue as some more difficult things go on – difficult things like strikes are really essential to finding a fair agreement. We hope that as our collective agreement goes on that we’ll see similar support. Thanks. 

JH: I’ll just take the last couple of minutes here to thank you for hosting us and allowing us to speak to all of your listeners. We look forward to seeing you all out on the picket line on Thursday at 11:00 AM. Thank you for having us and asking very thoughtful questions.

Please contact [email protected] with any omissions or errors in our transcription.