There are 11 different unions representing more than 20,000 employees in 23 employee groups, which are separate bargaining units each with its own collective agreement. This means that the University is often in labour negotiations with one or more of its unionized employee groups.
Unionized employees cannot legally go on strike during the term of a collective agreement.
Once labour negotiations begin, there are several stages before a union is in a legal strike position.
- The collective agreement must have expired.
- Strike mandate vote: The union must ask its membership for a strike mandate by holding a secret ballot vote open to all affected employees.
- Conciliation: before or during negotiations, either party or both parties may apply for conciliation. The province then appoints a conciliation officer who helps the parties work towards a collective agreement.
- No board report: at any point during conciliation, either party or both parties may ask the conciliator for a 'no board' report.
Seventeen calendar days after the date that the Minister of Labour issues the 'no board' report (which is typically 3-5 business days following either party’s request), the statutory freeze period ends, the collective agreement ceases to apply and the parties are in a legal strike or lockout position. The parties could mutually agree to extend the statutory freeze period and continue working under the terms of the existing collective agreement. Alternatively, the employer could unilaterally implement new terms and conditions of employment, since the collective agreement no longer applies.
Strikes and lockouts are very rare at U of T. Since 1971, there have been a total of 9 strikes. In each case, students were able to complete their academic year.