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?

 

Collective Bargaining

When will Governments learn – Collective Bargaining is a constitutional right!

Many say we have come a long way in labour relations in Canada since the adoption of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This charter gives all Canadians the freedom of association, and by extension, the right to join a union, have a collective voice, and ultimately the right to collectively bargain.

But in reality, have we progressed very far?

In the mid 1960’s Jean Lesage, the Premier of Quebec stated, “the Queen does not negotiate with her subjects.” That sentiment that public sector workers did not have the same rights as private sector employees was common in that era.  This sentiment continues in the 21 century, where Canadian Provincial governments continue to infringe on the rights of public sector workers, while judges continue to rule in favour of upholding the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Click Here to Read the Article

The story behind this infringement of collective bargaining rights goes back four years to 2012 and the passing of Bill 115 – Putting Students First Act.

Click Here to Read the Article

Click Here to Read Bill 115

Bill 115 was a legal slight of hand employed by the Ontario Liberals. The Ontario Liberals did not want to pass back to work legislation as they knew that may be considered illegal. So what did the Government do? They imposed a new collective agreement on the teachers unions and when you have a current collective agreement the union does not have the right to strike. Effectively, the government forced the teachers to go back to work without passing legislation to take away that right.

An interesting twist to the story is that once the collective agreements were in place, the Ontario Liberals repealed Bill 115. Ultimately, it was just like it never existed. Since the teachers were now bound by a collective agreement, the union had no right to strike.  It was a very clever move by the Liberals, but it did not stand up to a court challenge.

In effect, the Ontario Liberals felt they were above the law. It took four years, but it has been ruled that Bill 115 was an abuse of power and that it was illegal.

Public sector labour relations are very complex. Trying to balance public budgets, safety, and services is not an easy tasks. Governments must learn to respect that most public sector employees have the right to freely collectively bargain which includes the right to picket and strike.

Discussion Question:

  1. After reading and researching Bill 115, discuss what type of strain the Bill has placed on labour relations between the School Boards, the Government, and the Teachers Unions.

What’s in a Name?

Disputes often arise from good intentions gone wrong.

Source: Paul Lemon/Shutterstock
Source: Paul Lemon/Shutterstock

In a recent case, the Prairie North Health Region (PNHR) tried to amend its practice for employees wearing name tags.   The change was to have the full name (first and last), job title, and picture of the employee on an identity badge, rather than just the employee’s first name.  As noted in the article, the purpose of implementing this change came as a result of the employer wanting to promote a patient first philosophy and to equalize the balance of power between patient and health care provider.

Click Here to Read the Article.

The union representing the workers, CUPE Local 5111, disagreed and filed a grievance in order to stop this change in practice.  The grievance, as noted in the article was based on several grounds, with the allegation of violation of employee privacy as the primary concern. The matter was not resolved internally.  As a result, the dispute went to arbitration for a final resolution imposed by a three-party panel of arbitrators.

The arbitrators’ decision fell on the side of the union.  The employer had to rescind the new policy and had to implement new cards showing only employee first names, job titles along with a photo.

Click Here to Read the Case.

As you will note, this case is extensive.  It shows the amount of critical detail, witnesses, testimony, legislative impact, evidence of past practice and presentation of other precedent setting cases required in order for this matter to be resolved through a board of arbitration.  It was definitely a costly exercise for everyone involved.

Clearly, our names and our right to protect our own personal privacy has value.

One wonders, however, how much the value of good intentions truly cost all of the parties in this case.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Who would benefit from employees wearing name tags with first and last name?
  2. Why do employees, in this case, have a ‘greater’ right to privacy than patients?
  3. What elements of this case would prevent it from being resolved within the applicable grievance resolution process?
  4. Why, do you think, a case like this would proceed to arbitration?
  5. What lessons would you take from your reading of this case?

 

Arbitrators in Action

Termination is a Risky Business.

There was a great deal of social media coverage surrounding the firing of a Hydro One employee who contributed to the sexist heckling of a news reporter, in the spring of 2015.  Many commentaries at the time included speculation as to whether or not the termination of this employee would stand.

Since the employee was represented by a union, the termination was grieved and it went to an arbitration hearing.  In this case, the arbitrator made the decision to re-instate the former employee back into employment with Hydro One.

It is interesting to note the slightly different perspectives that each media venue provides; for example,  watch the following coverage provided by Global News.

Click here to read the article.

The coverage includes the perspective of a union spokesperson providing their insight as to what the arbitrator took into consideration when making the determination for reinstatement.   It seems that the former employee’s genuine remorse and public apologies for his conduct were factors that had some influence on the resolution to this situation.  Having said that, we are not given information as to what the employer presented at this hearing, nor are we given information as to all of the facts that the arbitrator had to consider.

In a case such as this, the arbitrator’s decision is final.

What remains to be seen is how this decision will influence other cases in the future regarding the termination of an employee due to their own ‘off-duty’ conduct.

Discussion questions:

  1. Do you think employers in the future will terminate employees for similar off-duty conduct if there is a risk of reinstatement?
  2. Is the risk worth it in order to ‘send a message’ about acceptable social conduct?
  3. Do you agree with the arbitrator’s decision in this situation? Why? Why not?
  4. From a Human Resources perspective, what types of policies need to be defined clearly in the workplace about employee conduct?
  5. Identify two or three different media perspectives through internet links for this case. What are the differences in the messages from each media outlet?