Patterned Collective Bargaining 

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What is good for one is not always good for the other!

To become a seasoned HR professional one needs to know not only the basics but understand the complexities of union management relationships. Having an understanding of patterned bargaining is one of those invaluable HR insights that will boost your HR career.

Collective Bargaining negotiations are always a complex dance between two parties. In many cases it involves not just the union and management at a single negotiations table but will include other employers that are represented by the same union. That has been the case for collective bargaining in the Auto Manufacturing Industry with Ford, GM and Chrysler in Ontario for decades. However, that may be changing in this round of negotiations

What is patterned bargaining? According to their own documentation the CAW (now Unifor) in its bargaining philosophy explains patterned bargaining on page 62 of the 2008 Collective Bargaining and Political Action Convention report as the following:

“In pattern bargaining we focus our efforts at negotiating a deal in one location that can be applied to other workplaces. Pattern bargaining is our attempt to overcome the limits of an industrial relations model built on collective agreements that apply to a single location or a specific employer. In some situations the pattern agreement is virtually the same across companies, as is the case in our bargaining at GM, Ford and Chrysler.”

Typically the union, in this case Unifor, will target a specific automaker where the union feels it can get the best deal. When a new collective agreement is obtained with the targeted employer the other employers will accept the deal as a “me too” agreement and they do not have to spend time to go through the negotiation process nor have a threat of a labour disruption. One could say it is a win/win situation and keeps the collective agreement consistent across the industry.

For the current 2016 round of auto industry labour negotiations, Unifor targeted GM in Oshawa as the primary employer to begin negotiations. In September 2016 the parties successfully reached a deal. This agreement would normally set the pattern for other agreements to follow and labour talks would be completed with the other two employers.

Here is where the twist happens, Unifor may not follow patterned bargaining nor have the ability to settle with the same GM deal for Ford and Chrysler as has been the precedent. This round the President of the Union Local  707 representing Ford employees in Oakville states he “is not prepared to accept the template that secured a deal with General Motors.”

Dave Thomas the Unifor Local 707 president goes further on to state:

“We as a local bargaining committee have sent a very clear message to Ford Motor Company and the national union that the framework agreement between GM and the membership will not suit the needs of the membership in Oakville.”

Click here to read greater details of the Oakville Ford Local Unions’ position.

This is a very interesting turn of events; the auto workers’ union has been very successful in the past by having a united front and a common focus. This has been their bargaining philosophy for decades, but just how the manufacturing industry has been dramatically changed by globalization, so too may the concept of patterned bargaining in the Auto Sector.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are the benefits and negatives for an industry to follow the concept of patterned bargaining?
  2. What are the benefits and negatives for an union to follow the concept of patterned bargaining?
  3. Research and identify if there are any other unions and industries in Canada that follow the philosophy of patterned bargaining






Interesting Agreements


Vintage poster for Workers Rights
Source: Tribalium/Shutterstock

Recently in Ontario, the provincial government and the public sector union representing correctional workers came to a historic negotiated agreement.  This agreement categorizes and recognizes the work of the bargaining unit members as essential services, on par with police and first responders.

It also means that the union gave up, through the negotiation process, the right to strike.  This guarantees that wages and financial benefits will be determined by a neutral, third-party arbitrator in the future.

Click here to read the Article

Click here to read OPSEU’s announcement of this historic agreement.

As we have learned through our labour relations studies, the right to strike is a basic principle for unionized workers.  Further, it is a powerful leveraging tool during the collective bargaining process.  A strike threat applies legitimate pressure on the employer in order to come to a negotiated agreement.  If there is no successful conclusion through a negotiated agreement, the parties will be faced with a service shutdown through strike action by the union or a lockout by the employer.

Why would any union give up what appears to be a fundamental right?  What would tie the parties together to work toward a successful conclusion in this case?

Common interests.

While we are not privy to the details of what was a very lengthy and difficult negotiation process, as noted in the embedded articles, both parties wanted safety and security.  It appears that it was not in the interest of the government to have to deal with strikes where the public may be put at risk.  It appears that it was not in the interest of the union to put themselves at continued risk if reasonable wage and security increases were not achievable through the traditional process of negotiation.

This may be a case where the common interests of both parties outweighed the positional, combative approach, which may not have led to a successful conclusion for anyone.  Both parties, in this case, had to compromise future bargaining power in order to ensure they would get what they most valued.

Both parties wanted and were able to achieve, by recognizing common interests, a successful conclusion that appears to serve their best interests now and into the foreseeable future.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Identify three common interests shared by the union and the employer (the government) as they are presented in the embedded articles.
  2. What is the main message to the union members in the OPSEU announcement?
  3. Do you agree that giving up the right to strike was the right thing to do in this case? Why or why not?
  4. What benefits are in place for the employer (the government) as a result of this agreement?


Doctors on Strike!

For the first time in 40 years Doctors in the UK are going on strike!

Click Here to Read the Article

The British Medical Association (BMA) is a registered trade union certified for all Doctors and Dentists covered by the British National Health Service.

Click Here to Read More About the British Medical Association

Contract negotiations are heating up in the United Kingdom (UK) and they are not going well for any of the parties. The Government is threatening to impose employment terms and conditions and, in response, the BMA is withdrawing their labour, in the form of services to the public and holding one day strikes.

This situation brings up many issues that are relevant to collective barraging in the public sector. The primary concern that is always discussed is, whether certain groups for reason of public safety should not be allowed to strike. Let’s leave that topic of discussion for another day!

What’s of greater interest, that gets little attention in the public sector, is whether or not negative labour relations affects future recruitment in the public sector?

Click Here to Read Some Statistics from the Guardian Newspaper in the UK

  • Physicians applying to be trained as specialists has dropped 9.2%
  • The number of General Physician applications has dropped close to 25%

These sobering statistics are worth pondering, in relation to the future of medical care in the UK. The UK is becoming one of the most populated countries in all of Europe; With the decline in physician training and recruitment, will it also become unhealthier?

Discussion Questions:

  1.  How does negative labour relations affect an employer’s ability to recruit and retain highly specialized employees?
  2. Do public sector employers have to be worried about their public image with employees?

Winning or Losing in Labour Negotiations

The Art of Hearing in Labour Negotiations


Is there a difference between hearing and listening? Yes, there is; especially in labour contract negotiations?

Hearing is a physical action that takes place whether we are conscious of it or not.

Listening is different, listening occurs when we place cognitive meaning on what we have heard.  To be successful in labour negotiations. listening is one activity you must excel at.

A very wise executive coach, Kent Osbourne once taught me that “listening is a decision” not a skill.   When I am at the negotiation table I make an extreme effort to listen. Making a decision to listen during negotiations has been instrumental through my collective bargaining career.

Ken Godevenos gives some great advice on the art of collective bargaining. Mr. Godevenos stresses the point; what is said at the negotiation table is not always what it seems.

My motto is, an excellent negotiator must become a master of “what is not said” and listen to what message is truly being delivered.  If you can do that you will be well on your way to success at the negotiation table.

Discussion Questions

  1. Name five things a Human Resources Professional can do to improve their success in labour contract negotiations.
  2. How would you specifically try to improve your listening?
  3. How would you practise listening for upcoming negotiations?