First Contract Arbitration in Ontario: An Evaluation of the Early Experience

Unions continue to face difficulties in obtaining first agreements, due largely to the conduct of employers. Previously, bad faith bargaining complaints have been raised against such employers, but the detection criteria and remedial response used by the Board have been inadequate in dealing with first contract situations.

As a result, in 1986 Ontario adopted first contract arbitration to more effectively address first agreement cases. An early evaluation of this procedure suggests that the remedy of first agreement arbitration is more easily accessible than in bad faith bargaining inquiries. There seems to be, however, a reluctance to employ the procedure, partly due to the administrative burden and expense faced by the unions. Nevertheless, for those that do apply, there is a deterrent effect which encourages the parties to settle more quickly and voluntarily, without the involvement of the Board.

It is too early to know if the imposition of a collective agreement encourages long-lasting relationships, but this also represents a very small proportion of first contract cases. The deterrent impact, therefore, is the more critical factor. Based on the Ontario experience thus far, in at least some cases the remedy has effectively countered employer reluctance to recognize the union.

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