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.

Tactics and Timing

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.

Chess pieces
Source: bikeriderlondon/Shutterstock

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.

Click Here to Read the Article

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.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Identify three key public constituents that might be impacted negatively by municipal workers going on strike.
  2. What are the benefits to the Union’s decision to implement a work-to-rule strategy rather than a full strike?
  3. What tactics could the Employer use to counter the impact of a work-to-rule campaign?

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?

 

Good Faith vs. Bad Faith

Nothing seems to drive a collective bargaining process into the ground more than the perception that one of the parties is not playing by the rules.  A key principle, that is enshrined in the legal process of collective bargaining, is the concept of bargaining in good faith.

It is, in fact, more than just a concept.

When parties agree to bargain in good faith, they agree to honour the rules that they make with each other before the bargaining process even begins.  These mutually agreed upon rules include items such as how communication will happen to each of the parties’ respective constituencies and, in the case of public sector bargaining, how information will be communicated to the public at large.  The setting of the ground rules between the parties is as serious as the content and the issues that are discussed at the bargaining table.  Setting the ground rules for bargaining is part of the legal environment and processes that enable fair, honest, and open negotiations to take place.

As with all kinds of rule based settings, when one of the parties appears to be breaking the rules or does not seem to be playing by the rules, the other party gets upset.  When this happens, the other party typically reacts in a negative way, which is not a surprise!  Suddenly, the issues at the table take second place, as the negotiations process stalls and hostile allegations of bad faith bargaining start to take hold.

This seems to be the case as the collective bargaining process continues to unfold in the education sector in Ontario.

Click here to read the article.

What makes this particular bargaining process more complex is that there are three parties at bargaining table: the government, the union, and the provincial association representing public school boards.  Resolutions to these types of allegations and bargaining processes are never easy.  Hopefully, all of the parties will be able to see their way through the layers of complexity and conflict in order to find a way to negotiate and to honour the bargaining process between them.

Discussion questions

  1. What was the agreed upon rule that appears to have been broken?
  2. What are the possible implications of filing a claim of bad faith with the Labour Board?
  3. Why is the issue of communication so important to each of the parties in this process?
  4. As a member of one of the bargaining teams, what steps would you take to resolve these allegations?