Understanding the Language of Collective Bargaining

 

Labour negotiations are a vital component of a unionized workplace such as the University of Toronto. The process of negotiating an agreement that works for the University, its employees and unions can be complex and lengthy. The terminology associated with collective bargaining may not always be clear or intuitive. The following are some commonly used terms with a brief explanation of each.

Collective Agreement

A binding written contract between the University and one of its unions that outlines many of the terms and conditions of employment for employees in a bargaining unit. These terms and conditions are reached through collective bargaining negotiations between the University and the Union. The types of terms that are included in a collective agreement often include wages, benefits, job postings and the grievance procedure.

Collective Bargaining

The negotiation process between committees representing the University and its employees, as represented by the Union, that leads to a collective agreement. When a new bargaining unit is formed, the parties negotiate a ‘first collective agreement’. Periodically, depending on the term of the collective agreement, which can vary significantly, the parties meet for collective bargaining and negotiate changes to the collective agreement. This changed agreement is commonly referred to as a 'renewal collective agreement.'

Bargaining Unit

A group of employees who are represented by the same union and are covered by the same collective agreement. The types of jobs in a particular bargaining unit are defined in the scope and/or recognition clause of the collective agreement covering that bargaining unit. Examples of bargaining units at the University include USW 1998 Staff-Appointed and Casual, CUPE 3261 Service Workers, CUPE 1230 Library Workers, OPSEU 519 Campus Police, Unifor 2003 Stationary Engineers, IBEW 353 Electricians, CUPE 3902 Sessional Lecturers, Postdoctoral Fellows and TAs, etc. A full list of our employee groups and bargaining units can be found here.

Ascension

The collective agreement ratification process particular only to CUPE Local 3902 requires a membership meeting – referred to by CUPE as an ‘ascension’ meeting – to determine whether to allow all employees in the relevant bargaining unit (i.e. Units 1, 3, or 5) to vote on any tentative agreement. If those in attendance at the 'ascension' meeting do not allow a bargaining unit wide vote, then the tentative agreement will fail without the opportunity to be voted on by all affected employees.

Conciliation

An official appointed by the provincial Minister of Labour (the conciliator) assists the parties in reaching a tentative agreement. The conciliator cannot require the parties to agree on anything, has no decision-making power and is not a compellable witness in any legal proceeding. Either party may ask the Minister to appoint a conciliator. The parties are not legally allowed to strike or lock out until after they have met with a conciliator and a ‘no board’ report has been issued by the Minister.

Mediation

A voluntary process that may follow conciliation if both parties agree to it and request the appointment of a mediator by the Minister of Labour. This process is intended to assist the parties on reaching a tentative agreement, typically during the period between the issuance of a ‘no board’ report and the commencement of a legal strike or lockout. Mediation can also continue during a strike or lockout if both parties agree. The mediator plays essentially the same role as the conciliator and is often the same person, although not necessarily.

Mediation also refers to a voluntary process often used by the University and the Union to help resolve grievances during the term of a collective agreement. A neutral third party (the mediator) tries to help the parties settle a grievance. The mediator is agreed upon and hired jointly by the University and the Union. Mediation usually happens after all of the internal steps of the grievance procedure have been concluded, in an attempt to settle the grievance prior to binding arbitration. The mediator can’t require the parties to settle the grievance in any particular way, but can help the parties decide how to settle it themselves, as well as offer professional advice and creative ideas.

No Board Report

This is a report issued by the Minister of Labour on the recommendation of the conciliator at the request of the University and/or the Union. The term ’no board‘ comes from the fact that in this report, the Minister states that they do not consider it advisable to appoint a ‘conciliation board’ to further attempt to help the parties reach an agreement. Seventeen calendar days after the date that the ’no board‘ report has been issued, which typically takes 3-5 business days following the request of the University and/or the Union to issue, the parties are legally allowed to strike or lock out.

Ratification

A democratic approval process whereby members of the bargaining unit vote to accept or reject the terms of the tentative collective agreement reached by the University and Union. The ratification vote happens at the end of collective bargaining, after the University and the Union have reached a tentative agreement. All members of the bargaining unit have the right to vote, with the exception of CUPE 3902, which requires that the tentative agreement is approved at an ‘ascension’ meeting prior to the bargaining unit-wide vote. Each member of the bargaining unit gets one vote. If more than half of the votes are to accept the tentative agreement, it is finalized and implemented.

Arbitration

Arbitration in the collective bargaining context is called ‘interest arbitration’ (i.e. intended to define the interests of the parties under the collective agreement). At the University of Toronto, it is a very rarely-used alternative to resolving collective bargaining disputes that normally requires the agreement of both the University and the Union. If both parties agree, they jointly select an arbitrator who will conduct a hearing and issue a binding decision resolving all matters remaining in dispute between the parties. Sometimes, and also very rarely, the government passes back-to-work legislation in order to end a strike or lockout and this legislation usually refers outstanding matters to binding arbitration for resolution.

Arbitration also refers to a process for resolving grievances between the University and the Union after all internal steps of the grievance procedure have been concluded and the grievance has not been settled. Arbitration in the grievance context is called ‘rights arbitration’ (i.e. intended to define the rights of the parties under the collective agreement). An arbitration is similar to a court proceeding, where a representative of the University and a representative of the Union make opening statements and present their arguments. Parties usually also call witnesses (e.g. the grievor and other employees/managers) who answer questions asked by the University and Union representatives. The arbitrator or arbitration board makes a decision that the parties must follow.

Lockout

A refusal by the employer to allow employees in the bargaining unit to work. Legally, the employer can only lock employees out after conciliation has taken place and seventeen calendar days have passed since a ’no board‘ report has been issued by the Minister of Labour.

Strike

When the employees in a bargaining unit stop working or engage in other forms of strike related activity in order to pressure the employer to agree to the union’s proposals in collective bargaining. Strike activity is any collective action by employees to stop or curtail work and can take many forms including: a strike in which the employees all completely stop working at once, or one in which they conduct selective/rotating strikes, sit-downs, slow-downs, or ‘work to rule’ campaigns. Legally, the employees can only strike after conciliation has taken place and seventeen calendar days have passed since a ‘no board’ report has been issued by the Minister of Labour. In addition, a union must have conducted a strike vote and received the approval of the majority of those voting in such a vote.

Strike vote

A vote by employees in a bargaining unit to tell the union whether they will allow the union to call a strike. The employees legally can’t conduct strike activity unless the majority of those who vote, vote ‘yes’ in the strike vote. All employees in the relevant bargaining unit have the right to vote. The vote is by secret ballot.

Tentative Agreement

A collective agreement agreed to between the University and the Union but not yet accepted/approved (ratified) by employees in the relevant bargaining unit.