HR needs to always expand its knowledge base. Whether you are hesitant to work with unions or accepting of the union’s philosophy, it is always good to listen to what an iconic union leader has to say about how to improve workplace relationships, and in this case union-management relations.
Buzz Hargrove is one of the most prominent union leaders that Canada has ever seen. He spent over 40 years working in the trenches of Canadian Labour Relations with much of that time as President of the Canadian Autoworkers Workers Union (now Uniform).
Depending on how the HR department integrates itself with the union they will have drastically diametric outcomes and relationships within the organization. From the video interview clip done by the Canadian HR Reporter, Buzz gives HR advice on work with a union which includes the following:
Even if you never plan on working directly in an unionized environment it is always wise as an HR professional to understand how unions work and how unionization will affect the day to day operations of the workplace.
Research what happened with Buzz Hargrove over the closing of the Molson Plant in Barrie Ontario in 1999.
If you were the leader of Molson’s HR department during the above event, what would your recommended response be?
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.”
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.
What are the benefits and negatives for an industry to follow the concept of patterned bargaining?
What are the benefits and negatives for an union to follow the concept of patterned bargaining?
Research and identify if there are any other unions and industries in Canada that follow the philosophy of patterned 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.
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.
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.
In our Canadian labour relations studies, we have learned much about the positive benefits of unions, especially in the public sector. There is no doubt that one of the lasting impacts of unionization in Canada is the fact that working conditions for all Canadians have improved in both public and private sector workplace settings.
There is, however, a warning bell ringing in the private sector unionized environment indicating that this positive trend is starting to take a significant downturn.
Howard Levitt provides us with some interesting data related to the decline in unionized workers taking place in the private sector over the past few years, in both Canada and the United States.
In a competitive economic climate, the push for increased wages and improved benefits does not seem to carry much weight if the result of that push means company bankruptcy, complete shut downs, and unemployment for the company’s workers who happen to be members of a union. As noted in this article, the decision by a union not to support its own members through strike funding would have been unheard of in good economic times. It seems that private sector unions are having to make very tough decisions and forego possible wage increases or compensation benefits just to keep their members employed. Further, the challenge will continue as an increased struggle between the union protecting members’ rights and the employer needing to have flexible collective agreements in order to stay viable in a highly competitive economic marketplace.
If private sector employees and employers are able to achieve stability and viability without the traditional battle of an adversarial unionized setting, why would they choose to remain in that setting? Based on the data that we are starting to see emerge, many employees are starting to make the decision to abandon the seemingly decreasing benefits of unions with the hope that they may be better off without them.
Tough times indeed.
If you had a choice to work in a similar position for an employer that was either unionized or non-unionized, which one would you choose? Why?
What types of language or items in a collective agreement create inflexibility for an employer?
What would prompt unionized employees to begin the de-certification process? Who would benefit from union de-certification in the workplace?
One of the trickiest elements that Human Resources professionals face is the need for clarity of the Human Resources role when working with managers in a unionized environment. Viki Scott, of Scott & Associates, provides excellent insight into the pro-active role the Human Resources professional should play with regard to conflict management and manager management in a labour relations setting. View her interview, below.
Human Resources has a unique role in walking the tightrope between management and union representation. While it may be difficult at times, part of this unique role allows for the benefit of accumulating organizational knowledge from each particular situation in which the Human Resources professional is involved. When the Human Resources professional works with managers on an individual basis, she or he is able to collect an inventory of situations that may or may not have had successful resolution. This should allow the Human Resources professional to share that accrued insight with managers on a pro-active basis. If the Human Resources professional is able to intervene pro-actively, they should be instrumental in preventing workplace situations from escalating, due to the breakdown of workplace relationships and the escalation of unwanted employee and management behaviours.
There is a saying, that past behaviour predicts future behaviour. By relying on what is learned from working with the behaviours of others in the past, the Human Resources professional can and should play a critical role in shaping the best of management behaviours for future success.
Why would managers benefit from coaching by the HR professional in any unionized organization?
Why should HR professionals not take ownership for management roles?
What impact does a negative relationship or behaviour issue have on the work environment?
What is the difference between consensus bargaining and wage bargaining?
Why is consensus bargaining more prevalent in this current economy?