Queen's University IRC

Employment Relations in the Unionized Labor Movement: A Comparative Analysis of Arbitration Cases in Ontario, 1971 to 1985


Mary Louise King

January 1, 1990

The institution of collective bargaining, central to public policy with respect to employment relations, requires a well functioning labour movement. There is evidence that labour organizations in the role of employer are subject to labour conflict which, if unresolved, threatens the collective bargaining regime. The survival of the movement is at risk in terms of its principles, credibility, and effectiveness as protector of the interests of the worker and promoter of social reform.

Despite its significance, there is little research into this critical employment relationship.

The present study outlines some external and internal pressures to which the movement is subject, and which are likely to translate into workplace tensions affecting the quality of the relationship. Many of them tend toward bureaucratization of union administration, a trend with both beneficial and deleterious potential. A tentative comparison is drawn with other work settings.

Arbitrations in the unionized union sector are compared with those in a sample of other settings in the province of Ontario from 1971 to 1985. The distributions of issues and outcomes for the two samples are presented and discussed. A review of cases on five major issues explores differences in the nature of the disputes.

Results suggest that arbitrations between unions and their employees account for a disproportionate number of cases, and include a higher ratio of procedural to substantive hearings than is generally found. The rate of occurrence of some issues as a percentage of total listings may be lower than for other employer-employee relationships. Both similarities and differences emerge from the descriptive review of cases. Numerical and qualitative differences found may be attributable to non-comparable occupations and working conditions between the samples.

Further research is recommended.

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