4 Strategies for Collective Bargaining in Today’s Economy
Gary T. Furlong, C.Med, LL.M (ADR), Queen’s IRC Facilitator, 2016
We have entered a challenging and difficult time for collective bargaining for both employers and unions. Shortly following the great recession in 2008, both management and unions reached deals relatively quickly, everyone recognizing the dramatic economic issues the parties faced at the time. From 2008 well into 2012, there was little change. Employers tried to deal with the reality of the recession, and unions waited for the anticipated rebound, assuming it would resemble almost all recessions of the past - a difficult period, a holding pattern for a short time, followed by a return to growth in the economy and a resumption of “normal” bargaining. This time, however, that hasn’t happened. Certainly not in the way it has in the past.
The economy has, at best, rebounded to the level of “treading water”, and bargaining has not returned to anything resembling “normal” for the last 30 years. Organizations are looking for zero wage increases, looking to fund increases from savings within the agreement, and looking for amendments to benefits and pension plans as well. These are challenging and difficult issues, so how can negotiators achieve deals that can be ratified? How do union and management bargaining teams navigate these issues when the economy has stagnated? At times when government revenue is anemic, deficits are up, and private sector profits are much lower than normal? At times when unemployment is steady, but steady at a level that is over 3 percent higher than in the United States? At times when manufacturing jobs, long considered the backbone of a strong economy, have disappeared with few signs of rebounding?
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Handling Labour Relations Disasters
Elaine Newman, Queen's IRC Facilitator, 2013
A female employee was involved in a romantic relationship with a male member of the team. He was married. She had enough. The romance ended. He was unable to accept the end of the relationship. He called her repeatedly, at home and at work. He openly harassed her. He distributed photos of her. The woman, her co-workers, and supervisors all saw what was happening, but no one quite knew how to help. Some didn't know if it was their business to intervene. Some thought this was a “private matter.” Eventually, the mentally unstable man came to the workplace. He stabbed the woman, causing her death. He then left the workplace, and killed himself.
This is a true story.
Consider the tragic human elements involved; the impact for the families of both people involved. Consider the implications for the human resource professionals, for the union, and for every individual working in this organization:
- There is widespread shock among employees, some of whom witnessed the episode
- There is guilt among supervisory staff, who were aware of the harassment
- There is a sense of danger that permeates the workplace, and has impact on morale
- Numerous grievances are filed, asserting failure to provide a safe workplace
- Numerous complaints of harassment are lodged
- Absenteeism rises dramatically
- Performance is affected, but supervisors are reluctant to counsel or impose discipline
- Gossip is rampant
- There appears to be no exit strategy from the disaster.
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The Golden Rules of Fact-Finding: Six Steps to Developing a Fact-Finding Plan
Lori Aselstine, Queen's IRC Coach, 2013
As labour relations professionals, we are required to engage in fact-finding on a regular basis. Good fact-finding ensures that the information upon which we form our conclusions and recommendations is credible, and that our advice is evidence-based.
When planned and executed properly, fact-finding provides a solid foundation for conducting analyses, forming conclusions, generating options and formulating sound recommendations. Fact-finding may involve researching documents or existing records and data, holding focus groups, interviewing witnesses, or using written surveys and questionnaires. The techniques employed will depend on the project or issue under consideration. What is constant across all fact-finding missions is the need for a plan to guide and document your efforts.
Developing a good fact-finding plan starts with figuring out what you need to know - what information do you have to have in order to form an evidence-based opinion. The precursors to good fact-finding include scoping the issue to determine what it is you need to answer, understanding the context within which the issue has arisen, and appreciating the “political” landscape (organizational and personal relationships often play a significant role in shaping a witness’ view of a matter) - all of these things can influence the approach you take to any given fact-finding endeavour.
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