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






Promises Made, Promises Broken

Simply put, the collective agreement is an employment contract.  As you will remember from your employment law studies, any employment contract that is formed between two parties, must have an offer, acceptance, and consideration in order for that contract to be enforceable.   In a unionized environment, each time the collective agreement is renewed through the legitimate process of collective bargaining, these principles of offer, acceptance, and consideration remain in play.  Once the parties have agreed to the terms of renewal, they have a contract between them.  Signed, sealed, and delivered.

Source: ALEXSTAND/Shutterstock
Source: ALEXSTAND/Shutterstock

The collective agreement is not a one sided ‘union’ contract that the employer can ignore.  It is a contract between two parties.  Nothing will harden and sour the relationship between an employer and a union more than the perception that the employer is ignoring the terms of a negotiated, settled, and accepted collective agreement.

Let’s look at this from a personal perspective.  If I agree to sell my house to a buyer, we negotiate the sale of the house and everything that is agreed and committed through a signed contract.  If that contract includes the agreement on my part to leave all of the window dressings in place, then I leave them in place!   I don’t take them with me or destroy them – That is not what I agreed to do.  If I do take them with me, I should expect a very unfavourable reaction from the other party because I have deliberately broken the contract between us. Actions are similar with collective agreement administration.  If the employer agrees to something during the life of the agreed upon contract, and then breaks that agreement, the union is going to react in a negative way.  This result should not be a surprise to anybody with the responsibility for administering a collective agreement.

Yet, it happens, as is discussed in the article, below.

Click here to read the article. 

It is easy to be an armchair critic and wonder why the employer, in this case, would have agreed to a commitment of no layoffs during the life of a collective agreement if they knew they could not afford it. We must remember that any contract negotiation is never straightforward and we have to live with the results.

What are the Human Resources lessons to take from all of this?  Effective HR planning and preparation for realistic implementation of a collective agreement is critical!  And, do not make promises you can not keep.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What types of terms could have been negotiated into this collective agreement?
  2. What could the employer have done differently in order to lessen the impact on unionized employees?
  3. Identify three specific pieces of information that an HR practitioner could have included as part of collective bargaining preparation?
  4. What steps would you advise the union to follow in this case?