In November 2017, Ontario passed Bill 148, The Fair Workplaces Better Jobs Act, which included a number of changes to the Employment Standards Act, the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHS) and labour laws in Ontario. These alterations will be taking effect in early 2018.
This article will focus on Bill 148’s impact on the Ontario Labour Relations Act (OLRA). All HR practitioners should be aware of the implications of these changes to labour laws. The law firm Mathews Dinsdale provides a concise summary of these changes.
The new bill was called Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, but it was the intent of the government to make things fairer and better for workers, not necessarily employers. The changes are in favour of the union movement.
Overall, Bill 148 gives the unions greater benefits around these following themes:
making it easier to unionize workers in certain sectors
mandatory union certification if there is a proven unfair labour practices by the employer
greater access to employee lists and employee contact information
greater flexibility for the Ministry of Labour to conduct various types of union votes
greater fines to the employer for violations
Unionization rates have been on a steady decline in Canada for decades from a high of almost 40%, to a low of under 30% of workers in Canada. Will these changes to the Ontario Labour Relations Act start to reverse that trend?
Conduct in-depth research to all the changes to the OLRA due to the passing of Bill 148.
Make a list of all the modifications. Once the list is complete, develop an action plan for an HR department to address these changes with new HR policies and practices.
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
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?
“Every day that they put this legislation off to the future is more time to negotiate.” – Sid Ryan.
As Canadians, we enjoy a remarkable history related to the development of unions and the labour movement. This historic past is built on the need for social change that provides a future benefit to all of us as workers in Canada. Most of Canadian labour history provides evidence of our more peaceful natures as powerful union leaders; such as, Sid Ryan’s use effective negotiation skills to achieve legislative changes. There are however, critical moments in our collective history based on violence and turbulent times. All of this history continues to be celebrated annually on Labour Day, which is a statutory Canadian federal holiday.
The importance of Labour Day and its connection to the history of the labour movement is highlighted in the following article:
Since this article was first published, in 2009, there have been numerous legislative changes that have continued to improve the lives of Canadian workers as a result of the drive and dedication of the labour movement in Canada. The future of the labour movement in Canada is built on numerous significant events from the past.
Unions have drastically altered our society and our economy. We have all benefited from the labour movement for such things as workplace safety, greater vacation, and maternity and parental leave benefits. When we remember the past and think about the future, do we want to live in an economy or do we want to live in a society with an economy? Unions support the latter and continue to change history as a result.
Clearly, history does not stop. It provides us with pictures of moments in time that we may not recognize as important when they are happening. Labour Day provides us with an opportunity to celebrate our collective labour history, reflect on those important moments in time, and to honour our past as we look to the future.
This article is dated from 2009. Identify new workplace legislation that has been implemented since that time either federally or in the province where you live. What is the link between each piece of new legislation and the labour movement?
What types of workplace benefits do you enjoy as a result of the labour movement in Canada?
Which historic labour-related event do you think has had the most impact on the lives of Canadian workers?
How do you celebrate labour day?
Will you participate in the next Labour Day parade in your community? Why or why not?
What would prompt you to participate in a Labour Day parade?