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