Playing chess is a game of timing, strategy, tactics, maneuvering, and movement. So too, is the process of negotiating a renewal to a Collective Agreement.
In the public sector, the ability to withhold services is a very powerful game piece that unions use in order to leverage their position at the bargaining table. Typically, when contract discussions break down the parties are in either a full strike position (Union side) or a lock-out position (Employer side). The complete withdrawal of services in the public sector, through either a strike or a lock-out, can go a long way to force both parties to come to an agreement. However, it can also cause irreparable harm to the reputation and support that is very much needed by both parties from the taxpaying public. When public sector unions go on strike, the most immediate impact is on the public that the sector serves. The risk of losing public support, as a result of premature strike action, is great. As such, timing throughout the collective bargaining process for public sector unions and employers is critical. Both parties need to know when the right move needs to be made in order to continue the game to a successful conclusion.
As an observer, it is interesting to watch the current negotiations process taking place in the municipality of Toronto. CUPE Local 79 and the City of Toronto have continued to bargain beyond the strike/lockout deadline with updates provided through the media on the progress of these talks.
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One of the pieces that the union has played in this particular bargaining process is a ‘work-to-rule’ campaign. This is a tactical move used to build pressure on the employer and, at the same time, one that should sustain support from the public. Services are still being provided so that families served by daycare workers, for example, are not left to fend for themselves – at this point in time.
Whether or not this type of pressure is enough to push the employer to make a successful counter move remains to be seen.
Only time will tell how this particular game plays out.
- Identify three key public constituents that might be impacted negatively by municipal workers going on strike.
- What are the benefits to the Union’s decision to implement a work-to-rule strategy rather than a full strike?
- What tactics could the Employer use to counter the impact of a work-to-rule campaign?