Improve Your Negotiation Outcome By Learning Something New: A Collective Bargaining Success Story

 A Collective Bargaining Success Story Most people are familiar with the old adage that defines true insanity as doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result. Then why, in labour relations, do we continue using the same processes and methods that have not yielded positive results for us in the past? Well, some parties have learned this lesson and are trying new approaches in their search for win-win outcomes of negotiation.

As a labour relations mediator, I have had the pleasure of working with parties who have realized that they cannot continue doing the same thing over and over and expect different results. This is a mediator’s account of how two parties to a collective agreement did something different. It is a story of how they learned new processes and skills to achieve outcomes that supported their collective priorities and interests. The improvements they saw were not just in the outcome of negotiations, but also in their ability to weather conflict and resolve disputes during the term of their collective agreement.

A Confrontational History

The characters in this true story include a composite fire department and the administration of a small township. The relationship had soured years ago and no one knew quite how to get it back on track. Actually, no one was trying to get it back on track, likely because of the fear of being perceived as favoring the other side. Why would a union member want to have a better relationship with management if they didn’t sympathize with the employer and were looking for a promotion? Why would an employer agent want to have a better relationship with the union? He must not care about the municipality’s priorities and ability to pay. Each party acted in a manner that served its own interests, to the exclusion of the interests of the other party.

This municipality and its firefighters’ union hadn’t negotiated their own collective agreement in many rounds of bargaining. Interest arbitrations are mandatory and binding in the fire sector under the legislative framework in New Brunswick. It could take up to two years after reaching an impasse to schedule, hold the hearing and get a decision back from the arbitrator. Being a small local, it was difficult for members to pay for the immense expense of interest arbitrations and so many fees over the years were paid out of members’ pockets. Four years of union dues during the term of a collective agreement often wasn’t enough to pay for the union side’s fees for the arbitration and their own legal fees.

The Seeds of Change

The municipality had recently experienced a change in command at the Chief Administrative Officer level, which brought along with it all sorts of questions, like, “why are we doing this?”, and “isn’t there a better way?” The CAO asked tough questions and persisted in an attempt to understand what was causing difficulties. He eventually contacted me, a third-party neutral, for help. Two years prior, the parties had received an interest arbitration but couldn’t agree on how it was to be interpreted. Both parties refused to sign off on their arbitrated collective agreement, yet did not wish to resubmit it to the arbitrator with all of the potential associated costs. The union was also open to trying something different, so the parties agreed to come to the table for mediation.

Initially, the parties wanted to stay in separate rooms during the mediation. This often poses a difficulty for mediators in that the parties do not get to experience their own negotiations first-hand. Relying on the mediator to carry messages from room to room removes an important aspect of communication between the parties and does not contribute to their continued success in the absence of that third-party.  I was able to convince the participants to keep everyone in the room and allow only me to ask questions (which, of course, were carefully prepared in advance with the parties). What a difference in how questions are received when they come from a third party who has no interest in the outcome of their dispute!

A few hours later, they began speaking to each other instead of me and were able to resolve the issue that had prevented them from signing their collective agreement for two years.

The mediation process introduced the parties to a new methodology and skills for negotiations; ones that was based on an honest exchange of dialogue instead of attempts to impose one’s position on the other party. The mediation wrapped up with a discussion about interest based negotiations and the benefits of effective labour management committees.

Improved Outcomes

Building on the success of these facilitated discussions, the parties agreed to attempt interest-based negotiations. The process took one third of the time of their historical negotiations and they successfully ratified the agreement with over 90% voting in favour on both sides of the table. They creatively resolved many issues that had been plaguing them for over a decade, and which had often remained status quo in an interest arbitration. The parties had even agreed to new methods and ideas for exploring resolutions to other issues during the term of their new collective agreement. Key outcomes included a major pilot project, renewed commitment to their labour-management committee, and an economically viable agreement that was equally rewarding for members.

What had changed for these parties? How did a change of process yield an outcome that had been so elusive for many years? Together, they began to realize that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result was plaguing their relationship, draining their resources, and leading to outcomes that were undermining the interests of both parties. This was a journey of learning new processes and developing new skills in negotiation and communication. The ones they had been using for so long just weren’t working.

We then started work on the labour-management committee, establishing terms of reference, practicing effective table behaviours and equipping the members with tools for having difficult discussions without devolving into a spiral of name calling, grievances, arbitrations and formal complaints to regulating bodies. The parties acknowledged that the latter was a drain on their resources, which could be better used in resolving their differences. An improved forum for in-term disputes emerged from what used to be seen as a “union-ask and management-deny” committee which served only to produce further documentation of their disputes.

They seem to have maintained the momentum in their new relationship and find that it is much more effective in getting what they need from each other. They seem to have stopped their endless ‘demands’ to each other and approach their issues with a commonality of interests, a united front against the problems that plague their operations. That is not to say that the relationship will not be difficult. There may be arguments, there may be conflicts, and there may be misinterpretations. There may be grievances and arbitrations and complaints; these things all serve an appropriate purpose after all. They may return to using a more traditional method of bargaining with proposals and counter-proposals. But they will be doing so with new communication skills and a knowledge that improved dialogue can lead to improved outcomes, regardless of the type of process they use. They are now able to see the other’s positions as a means to meet their interests, and effectively communicate this vision around a table, or across one.

Learn Something New So You Can Do Something Different

As a mediator, I recognize that interest-based bargaining is not for everyone, nor for every type of conflict. Some parties aren’t comfortable with the interest-based bargaining process, preferring more traditional ones. Whatever process you use, take note of the old adage; if it doesn’t work, do something different. Learn to listen better, take a course in negotiation skills or conflict resolution, use a third-party, talk with others in your profession about what works for them, and how they solved difficult problems. Build your repertoire of skills and processes and study the circumstances under which each might be effective. Improve your negotiation outcomes by learning something new so that you are able to do something different when the time comes.

About the Author

Jennifer Davis is formerly the Assistant Director of Human Resources for the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development in New Brunswick. She has over 10 years of labour relations experience, having negotiated public sector collective agreements. Since 2011, Jennifer has worked as a Conciliation and Mediation Specialist with the Province of New Brunswick. As a third-party neutral, she works with employers and unions in the private, public and quasi-public sectors offering formal and preventive mediation services.

Jennifer holds the Queen’s IRC Labour Relations Certificate and has completed two National Mediator Training Programs through a partnership between the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and Provincial Labour Relations agencies.

Labour Relations in Canada: The Changing Landscape of Collective Bargaining after Ontario (A.G.) v. Fraser

 The changing landscape of collective bargaining after Ontario (A.G.) v. FraserFollowing the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) in Ontario (A.G.) v. Fraser (Fraser), there has, predictably, been widespread speculation as to its eventual effect on the labour relations landscape in Canada.  A departure from other recent SCC case law, Fraser found that there was no constitutional guarantee for any specific form of labour relations or collective bargaining regime.  Even if the decision was significant in shaping Canada’s constitutional framework for collective bargaining, any tangible effect on labour policy has yet specifically to materialize. That said, there has certainly been a shift in the discourse concerning labour relations, labour policy, and the role of unions in Canada, and certain recent policy initiatives suggest that broader change may very well be coming.

This article highlights some of those initiatives, discusses how Fraser laid the groundwork for them, and considers what they could mean for the future of labour relations in Canada. In doing so, this article first traces the jurisprudential treatment of labour relations policy since the SCC decision in Health Services and Support – Facilities Subsector Bargaining Association v. British Columbia (BC Health) – the immediate constitutional precursor to Fraser. It then reviews a number of post-Fraser policy initiatives, the effect they have on the labour relations landscape, and their potential implications for the future.

Implementing an Interest-Focused Collective Bargaining Strategy

Implementing an Interest-Focused Collective Bargaining StrategyI was a professional Fire Fighter in the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), for many years before I got directly involved as a member of our Local’s negotiating team. Although I was always interested in our Association’s activities, and I regularly attended meetings, I never considered myself “involved enough” to run for any committee or executive position for those first 15 years of my career.

I’m not certain that there was any particular event that piqued my interest in becoming a member of our Local’s negotiating team, but I was frustrated over the regular cycle of failed negotiations and expensive interest arbitrations. It seemed to me, from the outside looking in, that history kept finding a way of repeating itself and that perhaps I could bring about some change to the process of negotiations.

As a newly elected member of our Local’s negotiating team in the mid 90’s, I eagerly approached every opportunity to learn about the issues and process as we approached a fresh round of negotiations. I was immediately taken aback with how often the question of “why are we doing that” or “why are we asking for that” was answered with “because it’s the way we’ve always done it.” It made no sense to me. The way we had always done it typically led to an impasse and, with strikes and/or lock-outs prohibited, we were then on to interest arbitrations. The inability to negotiate our own deal came at a great cost for our Local and municipality from both a financial and relationship perspective.

Public sector negotiations in Ontario were particularly contentious during these times, as the social contract years were coming to a close. The ruling provincial NDP government had frozen public sector wages in 1993 and labour organizations at both the provincial and municipal levels were anxious to make up for lost time. After suffering through several years of a wage freeze, the experienced members of our negotiations team were ready for a tough fight and the battle lines were drawn. Both sides took a hard-lined, principled approach to bargaining. I was puzzled by the lack of real communications and found the experience to be extremely frustrating.

After two rounds of negotiations on the Association’s side of the bargaining table, and before I could affect any change, I was promoted into a Senior Officer’s position and soon found myself on the other side of the table, as a member of the City’s bargaining team. Much to my dismay, I quickly discovered that I was right in my assumptions and that my new team utilized the same tactics and functioned under a similar philosophy to the Association’s. Both sides were stuck in their old ways, unwilling to change regardless of the cost. Intelligent, well-intentioned people were unable to change, in spite of the fact their battle-tested ways were not producing positive results, and had not in a very long time.

  • Both sides were submitting a long list of demands, afraid that if they didn’t have as many as the other side, they wouldn’t have as many “traders” and their losses would outnumber their gains.
  • Both sides stuck to unreasonable positions, afraid that they would be the first to “give in” and would appear weak.
  • The mood at the table was generally miserable. You couldn’t be “pleasant” or the other side may misinterpret that for “happy” and use that to state that you really don’t need what you’re asking for.
  • You didn’t dare share any more information than absolutely necessary; always holding all of your cards close to your chest.
  • The reason why you wanted or needed an item wasn’t important. Why was never shared and the why question was never asked. If an item was in your long list of demands, it was deemed important, whether you needed it or not.
  • Costs associated with any proposal were guarded like State secrets, without exception, and by both sides.
  • It was all or nothing, and winning was everything!

Yet who was really winning? Each side had wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years, only to have their collective agreement re-written by a board of arbitration. Decisions on business operations and the good and welfare of the employees were being made by a third party. Neither side was determining their own destiny, nor were they seeing their real interests met. No one was truly winning.

Benjamin Franklin has been credited with first coining the phrase, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” It was an insane notion to believe that repeating our same mistakes year after year would yield a freely negotiated collective agreement when it had so rarely done so in the past. While I’m pointing the finger at my teammates, it’s important to note as well that I wasn’t blameless. Over the years, with time spent on both sides of the table, I had picked up bad habits that were inhibiting me from effectively negotiating. Therefore, I took it upon myself to start the change by first altering my own bad habits.

I began by participating in seminars on successful bargaining skills. I read books and articles and finally had an opportunity to attend the Negotiation Skills program at Queen’s IRC. I came away from the program convinced that an interest-focused approach to bargaining was the ticket to successful negotiations and the key to breaking the bad habits back home.

Having sat through an interest-based bargaining seminar that was poorly received, while a member of the Fire Fighter’s Association Executive just a few years before, I knew that I could not walk in and change things overnight. I also felt that I could not announce a change in strategy. Instead of labeling the change as a shift to an interest-focused approach, I choose to subtlety introduce the changes, first in the preparation of our proposals and then at the bargaining table.

  • It’s not always necessary to label your new bargaining philosophy. Often a series of gentle nudges will work more effectively than pushing people in a direction they may not know they need to move in.
  • Know the people that you are dealing with. A thorough knowledge of their habits, wants, needs, desires and idiosyncrasies will help you to break those habits and tool your approach to getting them to buy into an interest-focused strategy.
  • It started with our management mandate. Gone were the “traders” that weighed down our proposals and wasted so much time. All items in our proposal package represented legitimate interests, and were truly needed. It wasn’t an easy sell to our team but it quickly sent a clear message to the other side.
  • As chief spokesperson on the management bargaining team, I started to ask the “why question” and listened to the answers, interpreting the interests of the Association in an effort to satisfy them while taking care of our own.
  • I took the time to explain our interests, whether or not the Association spokesperson asked for an explanation. It soon became clear that there were no traders or fillers. Our proposals all represented real needs.
  • I made every effort to be “nice” when possible, fully aware of the fact that the relationship both sides share outlasts our time across from each other at the bargaining table. That doesn’t mean we took the exercise any less seriously than in years gone by; we just didn’t sit stone-faced for the sole purpose of being miserable.
  • I shared costing data, including the cost of benefits.
  • Bargaining became a year-round activity. A thorough discussion of issues prior to formal negotiations meant we were not starting from scratch at the table, and that was a great time-saver.
  • A considerable amount of effort was put into identifying common interests and synergies, again, without labeling it as an interest-focused exercise.
  • We met as a team, post-negotiations, to identify what worked and why. Eventually, after some success, we did so with the other side as well.

I am not going to pretend that the transformation was easy or that we found instant success. However, we did successfully freely negotiate a collective agreement, on our own and without third-party intervention, during our first round of negotiations. As hard as old habits are hard to break, we proved it is not impossible. Our negotiating styles on both sides of the table have gone through a subtle transformation and we have successfully negotiated 12 consecutive years of collective agreements.

I have also witnessed a positive change in the day-to-day relationship between our senior management/HR team and the Association executive. A thorough review of the issues discussed at our regular labour/management meetings is a great way to prepare for an upcoming round of collective bargaining.

What was broken; appears to have been fixed!

About the Author

Andy MacDonaldAndy holds Queen’s IRC Certificates in Labour Relations, Advanced Labour Relations, and Organization Development Fundamentals, and he participated in the program on negotiations at the Harvard Law School. Andy holds a Bachelor of Science degree and has also studied at York University and the Ontario Fire College.Andy MacDonald was a member of the executive of the Brampton Professional Fire Fighters Association (BPFFA), IAFF Local 1068, for many years before joining the management ranks. He is currently the Fire Chief with the City of Brampton, Ontario. While a member of the BPFFA executive, Andy participated in collective agreement negotiations and gained the union’s perspective. As a member of the negotiating team on the other side of the table, Andy now plays a key role as a chief spokesperson of the Corporation’s bargaining team. Andy’s insight into negotiations from both sides of the negotiation table gives him an interesting perspective into the dynamics of collective bargaining.

He spends much of his free time aiding in many charitable causes and was the driving force behind the construction of his dream, the world’s first Fire/Life Safety Education Centre in Brampton. Andy’s other charitable exploits include rappelling off the CN Tower in 1985 to raise money for a Toronto burn unit, earning him a spot in the Guinness Book of Records.

Cultivating Effective Management-Union Relationships in the Unionized Workplace

In almost all organizations today, both public and private sector, managers are looking to deliver better results and greater productivity. And within these same organizations, the union is often seen as a barrier to management effectively achieving these goals. From the union’s point of view, management views the collective agreement as an impediment to achieving results, leading to frequent violations of the collective agreement. This dynamic leads to ongoing conflict between management and union, further draining the organization’s energy and resources, eroding the very productivity and results the company is seeking to achieve. Both management and the union need to revisit how the collective agreement is used, and could be used more effectively, within the organization.

To meet the challenges of the future, the onus lies on both management and the union to help create a working environment where every member of the organization contributes to the organization’s success. Based on the experience of a number of labour relations professionals, below are some of the most common mistakes and challenges that management and unions face regarding the collective agreement. These mistakes and challenges create the very issues that both are trying to avoid.

Common Management Mistakes

Lack of Training in the Collective Agreement: Lack of clarity and knowledge about the collective agreement among front-line managers and supervisors is a common problem in organizations. Recently, I was conducting a focus group with managers as part of the development of a training module on the organization’s collective agreement. I asked a group of 10 experienced managers (some of whom had been managers for 15 to 20 years) how many considered themselves to be very knowledgeable about their own collective agreement. Two raised their hands. Surprised, I asked how many had actually read the collective agreement within the last two years. The same two individuals raised their hands. Even more surprised, I asked those two why they, in particular, had read the collective agreement, and both told me they had recently been members of the union at this company, and had just been promoted to supervisors. In other words, eight of the ten managers were not at all knowledgeable about their own collective agreement (regardless of their length of service), and regularly made decisions without having a clear idea if they were complying with the labour agreement. Even worse, it was very likely that many of their staff did know whether their decisions complied.

The greatest building block for establishing credibility in the workplace for a manager or supervisor is clear knowledge and familiarity with the collective agreement. Without this knowledge, management lack credibility with their staff, impairing their ability to lead and drive change with their workforce.

Lack of Interpersonal Skills When Applying the Collective Agreement: Even when supervisors and managers do know and understand the basics of the collective agreement, they sometimes use it as a form of “power” to force their employees into compliance, rather than as a jointly agreed framework everyone must operate within. Once this workplace framework is clear and understood—both through the collective agreement and overall policies and procedures—it is still critical that managers and supervisors effectively engage their staff in a positive, productive relationship. Management-union relationships don’t run effectively through the use of power; they function productively when a climate of respect and engagement exists. And it’s up to management to take the lead in creating this climate.

Ineffective Communication with Staff: While there may be many meetings held, and a great deal of e-mail flying around the office, management has frequently still not communicated effectively with staff. The essence of good communication is answering the question, “Why?” Why is this initiative taking place? Why are we doing this? Why is this or that important? Much research shows that without everyone clearly knowing and understanding why decisions are made, or actions taken, little engagement, or commitment will arise. Effective communication requires management to have a communication strategy, one that prioritizes information, communicates it clearly, and repeatedly in a range of forums, from the company newsletter to labour management meetings, to shop floor meetings. When the “Why?” question is answered clearly and unambiguously, engagement and commitment are not far behind.

Common Union Challenges

Creating or Allowing a Reactive Environment: Many times, unions feel shut out by management, and react by simply resisting anything that isn’t crystal clear to them. Instead of resisting management decisions, unions should take the lead in asking: “Why?” That is, unions should hold management accountable to having clear, understandable reasons and rationale for decision-making. Further, unions must demonstrate a willingness to listen and take management’s goals for the organization seriously. By taking a proactive stand, rather than a reactive one, the union assumes a leadership role in helping to create a positive work environment for all staff.

Creating or Allowing an Adversarial Environment: In addition to resisting management decisions when feeling shut out, unions may become flat out adversarial on principle, refusing to support even positive changes the organization is implementing. These adversarial feelings often stem from a long history of conflict. Regardless of their root cause, a defensive stance makes it even easier for management to ignore, or marginalize the union, leading to even greater levels of resistance. This adversarial environment is characterized by the thought that, “If management wants it, it must be bad for us!” Once a strongly adversarial mindset takes hold, many opportunities to improve the workplace disappear. Once again, unions should hold management accountable by requiring both a clear understanding of management decisions, along with respect for the collective agreement. In turn, management will likely be encouraged to engage with, rather than marginalize the union.

Seeing Discipline as Purely “Punitive”: Discipline, when properly executed, is corrective in nature; discipline that is properly and fairly applied is necessary in workplaces. Unions that approach all discipline as unnecessary or unfair foster the wrong mindset. Unions have a clear duty to fairly represent their members, and must hold management accountable for fair and corrective use of discipline. This accountability doesn’t mean, however, that all discipline must be resisted and fought. By enforcing an approach that balances fair representation with a reasonable and corrective use of discipline, both parties will be promoting a culture of high performance and fair treatment in the workplace.


Both unions and management have a duty to create productive, respectful, and engaging workplaces. The collective agreement is one of the main tools that both parties must use effectively to create this organizational culture. Unfortunately, in many workplaces the collective agreement is seen by management as “the union’s document,” an attitude that prevents management from being able to manage effectively. And unions, in turn, may see the collective agreement as the primary way to resist most management changes and initiatives—an attitude that fosters conflict, rather than productivity.

Only by promoting knowledge and clarity of the collective agreement across the management team, as well as by supporting productivity and change initiatives that respect the collective agreement, can management teams and unions build strong organizations and better working relationships.


About the Author

Gary Furlong, Queen's IRC FacilitatorGary T. Furlong is a facilitator with Queen’s IRC Labour Relations programs.


Getting Along With the Union

How can human resources professionals bargain and build meaningful relationships with the union during tough economic times?

In her recent presentation at Queen’s IRC’s Labour Relations Foundations program, Ontario Nurses’ Association President Linda Haslam-Stroud provided sound advice for signing off on successful collective agreements. In the following excerpts from her talk, Linda shares her top 10 tips.

1. Foster equality: remember, union and management are the team

The employer’s objective is to hold the line or to get concessions, to get as much flexibility as possible so they can operate their organization.

The union is trying to improve wages, benefits and working conditions for members. That’s their job, that’s what they’re elected to do. They are the elected voice, the bargaining agents.

So both sides are coming into this with different goals to achieve. At the outset, HR and labour relations need to appreciate where the union is coming from, where there is room for movement, and where there isn’t.

So talk to your union; HR and labour relations and the union are the team. If you can’t build relationships, you won’t be successful as a union rep or an HR leader.

Courses like IRC’s, for example, foster transparency and open dialogue between management and union representatives. Attendees leave with a tool-kit of practical ideas on fulfilling their accountabilities as HR and union representatives.

2. Find common interests and collaborate

At the ONA, we’ve had success with interest-based bargaining. IBB can be anything from a formal process where you pay someone to come in and facilitate union-management cooperation on common problems, to a more informal approach to talk about issues.

It’s often a good alternative to approaches where employers and the union sit on opposite sides of a table passing documents back and forth.

IBB is helpful for identifying common issues. For example, the ONA and employers both want to provide quality patient care; and we both want to be fiscally responsible with tax dollars.

3. Drill down toward tough issues

First come to consensus on high-level issues, and then break down into more specific issues, such as scheduling. Wages, benefits and anything financial we leave until the end of the road. You want to build up a relationship when you’re bargaining, so try to get the non-financials off the table first.

4. Sign off as you go along to build momentum

We’ve been very successful in signing off on clauses in the nonstrike sector and in the strike sector too with CCAC case managers, public health nurses and nurses in industry. We find that this builds momentum, trust and credibility. So if you have four things you’ve agreed on and then break down on a really difficult issue, that relationship that’s been built will help you successfully negotiate further.

5. Talk – don’t push papers

Even if you are in a traditional bargaining setting, instead of just passing papers back and forth, talk about the issue. If the union’s come forward to you with some bizarre proposal, don’t walk out of the room without saying, “So union, tell me why do you want this; what’s the issue here?” It might be something you can give to union members and at the same time support what you want. But you’ll never know unless you engage.

If you want to negotiate well, start talking, ask questions. Say, “We have a problem with this, here’s how we think we can solve it, have you got any suggestions, union?” You might be able to get where you need to be without aggressive concessionary language that the unions could never take back to their members.

6. Avoid package deals

Package bargaining drives me crazy – at ONA we just ignore it. You know, “We’ll give you A if you give us the employers’ BCDEF and G.”

Passing packages back and forth drives me crazy. Basically you’ve told the union you’re willing to give on that point. And we’re saying, “Okay, that’s done, so let’s get down to the other ones we need to deal with.”

I’m not a big proponent of these packages.

7. Come prepared to negotiate

This scenario happens frequently: we as the union have taken five months to get to the table, arranged with everyone’s busy schedules to be there, including nurses pulled off very busy units that are often short-staffed, and we sit down to bargain. Then the employer says, “Ok, we’ll take a look at it, and our next day for bargaining is four weeks from now.” The employer group hasn’t even met to decide what its proposals are!

Have a good idea of what the language in the current collective agreement says when you come to bargain, and what your priorities are, whether you are management or union, and facts about why you want what you want. You have to show reasons so when we go to arbitration we can share case facts. Be prepared to tell this to the other side of the table: “We need this because of X.”

8. Hone priorities and proposals continually

At ONA we bargain at two levels: centrally and provincially. So how do we make sure we are very well positioned to go to bargaining?

We do a bargaining questionnaire of our 55,000 members. We have an external firm mail it out and members mail it back. We typically get high response rates of 35% to 40%.

The information is broken down into sectors: we know first priority, second priority, and down the list. We know what age group wants what percentage of a wage increase.

We have all that information, so when we come to the table, its not just a wish-list from members from the past two years since we signed the last collective agreement. It’s solid quantitative and qualitative information.

9. Signing the collective agreement means your job has just begun

Whether you are a union rep or in HR, once the agreement is signed, the question becomes, “So how will we implement this?”

Employers sometimes send out copies of the collective agreement to all managers, or have a short meeting with HR to orient them to the new language.

This isn’t enough: it’s about the ongoing discussion with managers on how the collective agreement is applied. And on the union side, reps have a responsibility too: to tell employees what their rights are, and aren’t.

10. Hold joint meetings about implementing agreements

One of the best practices I’ve seen in 30 years of negotiating was at St. Joseph’s in Hamilton. We got together after the collective agreement was signed and talked about how to implement it. We said, “Let’s sit, union and management together, and talk about the amendments and how that’s going to be worked out.”

The ONA has sometimes had joint meetings that include management and members to say, “This is the new collective agreement, a joint presentation of our joint collective agreement, a collective agreement that is ours and not theirs.” This goes a long way toward ensuring labour peace.”

Declining Enrolment in Ontario Public Schools – Implications for the Teacher Labour Market

For the foreseeable future Ontario, as well as most other provinces, will be faced with a shrinking school system, staffed by an aging and static teaching workforce. Responding to this challenge will be complicated by factors such as high retirement levels, more restrictive collective agreement language, and pension solvency issues.

Automakers, Unions, and “Lobbying and Hammering”

Queen’s Industrial Relations Centre Director Carol Beatty sat down with CAW President Buzz Hargrove during his recent visit to campus and discussed developments in the automobile manufacturing sector and the role of his union in addressing major changes in the industry.

You mentioned in your Don Wood Lecture here at Queen’s that negotiated agreements with the Big Three auto makers are no longer set in stone, that they can be superseded by a crisis of the day. Given this, can you offer more detail about the recent GM and Ford announcements about plant closures? And what were you able to do for the downsized workers?

Let’s take General Motors as an example. Within a month of ratifying the collective agreement, we were suddenly called to a meeting at 7 a.m. CEO Rick Wagoner was scheduled to make an announcement in the United States that day. We knew it would have an impact on Canada when we were called in.

They told us that they were closing Car Plant 2 in Oshawa at the end of August 2008. They were reducing one of three shifts in Car Plant 1 sometime in fall 2006; thirty-nine hundred jobs total. We thought our operations were safe because we were the highest quality, highest productivity, lowest cost plant on the continent. We were shocked.

GM says they’re closing these plants because they have “no product” for them. They say they’re concentrating on producing vehicles that they know would sell. They were losing market share, and the pressure from Wall Street to get lean and mean was enormous. At the time, we were producing Buick LaSabre, Buick Lacrosse, and Monte Carlo. There was not enough demand for these models.

Our national settlement wasn’t touched but the job loss was huge. The message is: Even if you’re the best, you don’t necessarily keep your job. We’re still trying to help the downsized workers. A large number are ready to retire but we could still end up with layoffs. We’re trying buyouts, voluntary retirement, everything we can.

I know you believe that some of these crises are caused by the lack of a level playing field between North America and Japan in terms of auto imports. What do you propose to solve the problem?

The Canadian and American governments should say to Asia, “We’re not going to allow you to sell anything in our market you don’t build here unless you open your own markets to reciprocal exports.” It would also send a strong message to China for the future.

You’ve mentioned the industry will be in worse shape when China starts exporting automobiles. Is Ontario’s auto industry doomed?

All the analysts are saying that you can build a comparative vehicle [in China] for one-third to one-half the cost here. Wages, material costs, energy, tooling and machinery are all lower in Asia, even though every day you hear about mine disasters and other dangerous working conditions. There are no unions, no dissent. The real issue for us is: Do we really want to buy from whoever makes [a vehicle] cheapest at the expense of our own economy?

Without government policy changes, the industry will be a shell of what it is now in Ontario. Our economy was over-reliant on automotive to start with and the Auto Pact favoured Canadian parts as well as assembly. Now, all that has changed.

Way back in the days of Pierre Trudeau, the government was prepared to get tough in these situations. Why not now?

[Former union head] Bob White met with Trudeau and Ed Lumley back in the early 1980s when imports from Japan were growing. The Americans were forcing the Japanese to invest in the U.S. and Japan agreed to voluntary changes in the U.S. but Canada was ignored. Trudeau told Lumley to just “do it”: to tighten up inspection at the entry port of Vancouver. He also told Lumley to take the political heat from that decision and he did, and Trudeau defended him despite layoffs at the docks. There was a backlash in B.C. but they held firm until the Japanese government ensured that the major players made investments in Canada. It took a long time but they did it.

Why not now? Since we signed the Free Trade Agreement, there’s been this mood in the country that free trade is great, that it’s the fault of the auto makers and the unions if there are problems or layoffs in the auto industry. Politicians take great comfort from that. The Southern U.S. states were giving huge incentives to build plants there – 20 percent of start-up costs on average. But we couldn’t convince Jean Chretien to meet with us on this issue. No movement. John Manley was a free trader. Alan Rock was immovable. When Martin took over, we finally got a hearing. He appointed David Emerson as Minister of Industry, and Emerson listened and responded. Dalton McGuinty (premier of Ontario) too. They started offering incentives to the Big Three to invest here. We were finally getting to them on the trade issue. They made some strong statements.

Then the election came. Now we have to start over again. We’re not sure how the Harper government will respond to this issue, but we’re going to lobby and hammer. [Harper] will have to deal with me on this issue whether he likes it or not.

Thanks for your insight. We’ll keep a close eye on these issues and hope you make progress on creating that level playing field.

An Investigation Into the Collective Bargaining Relationship Between the NHL and the NHLPA, 1994 – 2005

This paper provides analysis into the workings of the collective agreement that governed the relationship between the National Hockey League and its Players’ Association. By examining the elements and processes of the collective agreement, the nature of negotiation, and the roles of agents, owners, general managers, and arbitrators, it shows how significant increases in player compensation that occurred over a ten-year period set the stage for the 2004-05 negotiations and season-long lockout.

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