NASA Statement on COVID-19 and the University of Alberta

Members of NASA have always been there when called upon to support the work of the University of Alberta and the needs of Alberta. When wildfires hit Fort McMurray, the U of A community responded with overwhelming support for those needing help. With this new crisis affecting the province of Alberta, NASA members will once again rise to the occasion to support each other, our students, our faculty, and our larger community.

We urge you to be regularly checking the university’s website for official updates. 

We are already hearing many concerns from NASA members and are having multiple discussions with university administration about how they can be addressed. 

Our priority message to the university right now is that any planned layoffs must be put on hold for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis. At a time when university workers are scrambling to assist in the shift to remote teaching and keep the other functions of the university running, while also needing to arrange care for their children and potentially support sick loved ones, the last thing they should be worried about is whether they will lose their job. The fear of layoff is very high and at the current time people need to know that they can rely on their sick leave provisions if they become ill and their benefit provisions to cover their health costs. 

Different faculties and departments are handling work situations differently depending on their current needs and the needs of workers, but the one consistent message we are hearing is that central administration is asking all supervisors to be flexible and do their best to accommodate people's individual circumstances. If you have a difficult supervisor, NASA will assist you; however, please try to find a resolution with your supervisor if possible.

In line with recommendations from public health officials, NASA’s office and labour relations staff will be working remotely from home starting this afternoon. You will still be able to reach them by phone or email if you are in need of support. 

NASA is also pushing the university to allow for work from home options for those whose work can accommodate being done remotely. We are also asking that there be clear direction around how to utilize paid leave provisions for illness and other provisions for those whose family responsibilities require them to stay home during the K-12 school closures.

Public health must be our main focus at this time. While most people who contract COVID-19 will have mild symptoms, the large number of potential cases means that even a small percentage of serious cases can overwhelm our hospitals. In other countries, health professionals are having to make difficult calls about who will receive a respirator to help them survive the illness. The goal for Alberta is to slow the spread of the virus to reduce the number of serious cases happening at the same time.

At Friday’s Board of Governors’ meeting, layoff numbers were revealed that would mean starting the next school year with 800 to 1,035 fewer staff than the university employed in September 2019. NASA will be sending separate communications on that issue in the very near future.

Right now, we urge everyone to follow the instructions of Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health. Take care of yourselves and your families. We are advocating for you in this situation and will send updates as we obtain additional information. 

In solidarity,

Elizabeth Johannson
NASA President