Best Practices for the Union-Management Relationship in the Workplace

These are challenging times for public-sector finances, private-sector growth in a sputtering economy, and hard conversations at the collective bargaining table.  With so many issues on the macro level, we sometimes lose sight of the day-to-day working relationship for all of our employees and bargaining unit members. For the vast majority of unionized and non-unionized workers, it is the day–to-day interactions that determine whether the workplace is a productive, engaged environment, or one that preoccupies everyone with conflict, grievances and problems. Where each workplace falls on that spectrum will largely determine productivity, quality, absenteeism, as well as retention and recruitment. In other words, success often depends on what we do each and every day in the union-management relationship.

Jointly Building a Productive, Constructive Workplace

To achieve a healthy workplace that leads to commitment and engagement, there are some important best practices that can be implemented, jointly, by the union-management partnership. Consider some or all of the following five best practices for managing in a unionized workplace:

1. Joint Training for Supervisors and Stewards

There is still a common mindset among management that once an employee is elected to the union, they now work for somebody else. Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that companies train their employees year in and year out – skill building is one of the best investments in the workplace. Yet union stewards and members of the executive do not cease to be employees when they take on a union role. In fact, they are even more engaged in the success of the business than they were before, now being responsible for hundreds, if not thousands, of employees/members. So, why wouldn’t the company consider their training just as important as any other workplace role?

Some of the most effective training that supervisors and stewards can receive is how to resolve issues at the front line.  Skills-based training on joint problem-solving and conflict resolution can pay major dividends for both the company and the membership when stewards and supervisors are skilled at identifying and working together to resolve issues. As part of the training, both parties should be then expected to address issues at the front line, and not simply pushing them into the grievance process that often results in delays, simply because the front-line interface is ineffective.

2. Application of Discipline

Another area for joint training for supervisors, managers, stewards and the union executive, is on the fair and appropriate application of discipline. Discipline is poorly understood and even more poorly applied in many workplaces, resulting in anger, frustration, disengagement and inappropriate behaviour on both sides.

A transparent, fair, and clear discipline process that is jointly understood and applied benefits everyone in the workplace, including individuals who may indeed receive it. Most importantly, discipline should be preceded by clear discussion and engagement with the employee wherever possible and appropriate, to minimize “surprises”. After all, properly applied discipline has only one purpose – to change and align behaviour. Almost everyone, when treated fairly, will make the changes required.  And when the union and management are both applying the process fairly – and holding each other accountable – everyone benefits.

By training all leaders in the workplace on the proper and effective use of discipline, and with all leaders knowing and understanding the process, formal discipline will be what it is supposed to be – a last resort, not the first action taken.

3. Labour-Management Committee

Most workplaces have some version of a labour-management committee (LMC), or an employee relations committee. Regardless of the title, it is a forum for raising and addressing issues on a regular basis.

If your LMC doesn’t have operating principles or guidelines, it will not be as effective as it could be. Many LMC’s become dysfunctional very quickly, simply because the two parties have different views on the purpose and running of the committee that quickly degenerates into conflict. One of the first steps an effective LMC should take is to establish joint operating guidelines that will help ensure the committee’s success. The collective agreement often defines who attends, how many from each side, and how often the committee must meet. That is a start, but nowhere near enough structure for the committee to succeed. A better approach and framework is needed.

For example, some common operating principles, beyond those mentioned above, may include:

  • Agenda: Who puts the agenda together, how much time is allocated for each item, what type of issues come to LMC, and a commitment from both parties to bring issues needing resolution to the table.  Management must watch the tendency to see LMC as “the union’s meeting”, and end up seeing the meeting as nothing more than “extra work”.  The union must watch for the tendency to bring everything, including individual employee issues, to this table. Both parties should agree on the scope of issues that appropriately land on the LMC agenda.
  • Minutes: Decide early what “minutes” will mean for the teams. Often, the default is to try and capture what each party, or every individual, says during the meeting. This is often unwieldy, and creates far too much formality for an effective LMC.  Successful committees often just capture a short description of the issues raised, the decision or agreement made at LMC, or the next steps with a name and date for completion attached.
  • Problem-solving: The most common trap at LMC’s is the belief that the goal of the committee is to argue. Nothing could be further from the truth – the goal is solving problems that arise in every workplace. And arguing has no place in problem-solving. Operating principles that identify good data collection on an issue, followed by developing options for solving, or at least improving the situation, bring both parties together in finding better outcomes. Arguing simply polarizes the parties, making even simple issues hard to resolve.
  • Other Guidelines: There are other simple guidelines, such as timing, reporting back, joint sub-committees to do more in-depth analysis, and ensuring everyone has a chance to be heard, that all contribute to both parties being a part of the solution. And at the end of the day, any important issue that is not resolved can still be grieved or brought to bargaining – with a great deal more information and understanding attached.

4. Communications are Key

Communicating is simply not enough.  In today’s environment, over-communication is the order of the day.  No one in labour relations likes to be surprised, on either side. When addressing issues, make a joint commitment to keep each other in the loop, discuss expectations of confidentiality, and never let your partner end up with egg on their face. They’ll simply be frying up a new omelette to return the favour. With clear and simple guidelines, both parties can stay in the loop without disadvantaging anyone, nor either party feeling like they have given up their autonomy. A healthy union-management relationship pays many more dividends to both parties than “tricking” or surprising the other party ever did.

5. Joint Communications

For any important workplace issue, management and their union(s) should look toward joint communications, wherever possible.  For example, after finalizing a new collective agreement, the parties should jointly communicate the changes and the rationale behind them. Often, each party communicates to their own stakeholders – management to supervisors, the union to stewards and perhaps their membership. The problem, of course, is that they frequently communicate different messages, setting the workplace up for immediate conflict and grievances. The process of jointly crafting the information and messaging often helps the parties better apply the new language in a fair and direct way. Other areas include changes to legislation, significant workplace changes, policy changes, etc. Both parties will benefit far more from joint communication to employees/members than they ever will gain by putting significant “spin” on it in their favour.

Labour relations is an ongoing process of change, more so now, it seems, than in the past. Major issues such as demographic change, changes in attitudes toward government, international trade, retirement, and types of pension plans are the new normal across Canada. By aligning management and union processes in the workplace in all areas where there is mutual benefit, we all help create healthy and more sustainable workplaces for the future.

About the Author

Gary Furlong

Gary Furlong has extensive experience in labour mediation, alternative dispute resolution, negotiation, and conflict resolution.  He has delivered collective bargaining negotiation skills training for both management and union bargaining teams across Canada, bringing a strong focus of effective and collaborative skills to the table. Gary also conducts relationship building interventions to strengthen day-to-day union-management effectiveness away from bargaining. He has worked with a wide range of companies in the private sector, in the public sector with municipalities, provincial governments and the federal government, and with unions including Unifor, Teamsters, CUPE, ONA, OPSEU, and PSAC. Gary is past president of the ADR Institute of Ontario, is a Chartered Mediator (C. Med.) and holds his Master of Laws (ADR) from Osgoode Hall Law School.  Gary is the author of The Conflict Resolution Toolbox, John Wiley and Sons, 2005.


Check out the Queen’s IRC Managing Unionized Environments joint training program to learn more about managing the day-to-day relationships within a collective agreement.

The Path to Success for Organized Labour

Labour unions are at a critical time in history. Unions are working to engage the current membership and exploring new innovative communication strategies that are needed to reach the younger generation in a meaningful way. Gone are the days of the bulletin board as the primary sources of union news and updates. People are busy and it’s a challenge to draw the membership out to a meeting. It was not too long ago when local arenas were filled to capacity to hear the local union president address the membership. Email, text message, Twitter and Facebook are popular forms of communication in the fast-paced world of work, and the membership is demanding multiple communication platforms to access. Contrary to popular belief, union members are interested in their union; they simply don’t have the time to participate in the traditional model that is in place, the membership meeting.

Like many organizations, unions are in a time of change and transformation.  As stated by Littlemore (2013), union membership is “pretty close to what it was 10, 20, 30 or even 40 years ago.” (p. 1). Many factors affect the decline of union membership and according to Tattersall (2008), these factors include “international economic competition, anti-union legislation and a shift in local industries from unionized manufacturing to non-union services” (p. 416). Although union membership as a whole has remained constant, the numbers require further investigation. Littlemore (2013) confirms private sector union density has been on a constant decline. With a lens on the private sector unions, a more focused examination is required to understand the decline, what factors may be contributing to the drop in membership, as well as what unions can do to reverse this trend.

Download PDF: The Path to Success for Organized Labour

The Future of Labour

The labour movement in Canada has a long and proud history of success and positive community involvement. Throughout the years however, union membership levels across North America have been on a steady decline.  Many would argue the decline in the ranks of unions is attributed to stronger labour laws protecting workers, less interest by the young workers entering the workforce and a more transient workforce demanding flexibility and merit over seniority. These arguments, although attractive on the surface, are easily discredited with a minimal amount of research and thought.  Some would argue that legislation is in place to protect workers’ rights. However, the legislation traditionally provides basic minimums in employment.  Like any piece of legislation, the rights an employee enjoys and relies on can be taken away with the stroke of a pen. ‎Corporate lobbying has taken a toll on legislation designed to protect workers, leaving gaps and holes making the legislation toothless when enforcement is required. Unions are still needed to protect workers, and they are an important part of the future of labour. There are still many workers who work in less than ideal conditions. But like any other organization, unions need to change and adapt to the changing world.

Current Trends

Currently, fast food workers across the United States are engaging in a sort of wildcat strikes to demand a living wage of $15 per hour. These workers are subjected to minimal compensation rates, little to no benefits or pensions and unstructured and unreliable scheduling, all while reading about record corporate profits and CEO’s making anywhere from $7 million to $22 million a year. In the past, these workers normally would have organized and formed a union within their workplace in an effort to have a voice in their working conditions. However, they chose not to take that path. Not because they didn’t want to form a union, but because forming a union has become too cumbersome and formalized through legislation and litigation in the U.S. These workers decided not to take the traditional path of unionization to demand better working conditions, and instead they chose the grass roots path to withhold labour in return for better wages.

This sort of guerrilla tactic is impossible for the corporation to control, or even predict and anticipate. There is no organization behind the movement to sue or pressure, there are no court injunctions to be issued and no organizations funding or coordinating the action. In short, the anti-union legislation has done what it was drafted to do: frustrate union organizing activity to a standstill. However, this type of grass roots, guerrilla mobilization is one of the unintended consequences of anti-union legislation. As these movements become more active and start to become more structured, unions will assist and guide these newly formed “unions”, however, it will be up to the workers if they accept the assistance and support of organized labour.

How U.S. Anti-Union Legislation Affects Canada

Locally, there has been a movement to dismantle the Rand Formula in some jurisdictions in Canada. By removing the Rand Formula, members would no longer be required to pay union dues while still enjoying the benefits of union representation and the benefits of the collective agreement.  With the spread of “right-to–work” legislation being passed in a majority of states in the U.S., including the labour stronghold of Michigan, many pundits claim that to remain competitive similar laws should be adopted in Ontario. Typically, right-to-work states boast that low unionization rates encourage and entice corporations to relocate their facilities to that jurisdiction. Lafer and Allegretto (2011) stated, “right to work laws have not succeeded in boosting employment growth in the states that have adopted them.” (p. 2). This is simply a ploy to gain public support in an underhanded move to financially cripple unions and prevent them from providing representation to the membership.

Precarious Work and Legislative Challenges

Another issue plaguing todays’ workers is the increased use of agency workers or temps. Temporary workers, better known as agency workers, are becoming the trend and the norm in Canadian workplaces. Precarious jobs and low wages are not only a plague to the current workforce, but also to generations of young workers to come. The Globe and Mail reported that, “the number of temporary workers in Canada hit a record two million last year, according to Statistics Canada. This amounts to 13.6% of the workforce compared with 11.3% in 1997.” (Grant, 2011, para. 1).

When a workplace makes the decision to use agency workers to fill permanent vacancies, two outcomes can be expected. First, the agency workers usually have a lower rate of pay and normally have no benefit coverage. Currently, there are no laws in place that prevent an employer from treating an agency worker differently than a regular employee. The Employment Standards Act offers little protection to these workers.

Second, unions struggle with organizing workplaces that are virtually employee-less but have a workforce comprised of workers from multiple temp agencies. These workers do not oppose union certification, on the contrary however, the complex system of agencies in the workplace makes certification nearly impossible. If a worker complains publically, termination is likely the result. At least one employer is facing legal action for firing an agency worker for expressing his unfortunate employment circumstances. Angel Reyes filed a lawsuit for wrongful dismissal after he was terminated for speaking out. Through a workers action center, Angel hopes to bring a voice to agency workers in Ontario (Workers Action Centre, 2015) and stated, “I hope that through this lawsuit United Staffing Services and Canada Fibres will finally be punished for the way they treat workers.”(para. 2).  Ironically, in an interview with the Toronto Star (Mojtehedzadeh, 2015) Angel stated, “the biggest issue is the lack of respect and dignity in (temporary) work. Nobody is seeing them for who they are and the work that they’re doing. They are completely invisible.”(para. 5). This type of precarious employment combined with an unstable relationship with the employer puts a chill on union organizing before it even begins.

Political Action

Labour unions are facing a challenging time. Doorey (2013) stated, “polls of workers in Canada and the U.S. demonstrate clearly that many, many more workers would like to be unionized than actually are.” (para. 9). However, despite the fact that workers are increasingly interested in forming a union in their workplace, this is becoming more difficult to achieve. As illustrated with the U.S. fast food employees, workers are resorting to more non-traditional approaches such as self-organizing and withholding labour. Workers are accessing worker action centers for assistance with employment related issues, a job that until recently unions held. Unions have adapted to change over the years and today’s problems will be met with creative solutions. One thing is clear now more than ever – unions must be involved in politics to ensure legislation is current and effective. It has become clear that labour unions are one of the last structured pillars supporting fairness and equality in the workplace. The task at hand is to ensure fences are not erected around the pillars that prevent workers from accessing union representation.

Grass Roots: A Renewed Vision

Internally, unions are returning to their roots.  Community Action Networks (CAN) are a renewed vision of solidarity and community activism. They are responsible for raising the profile of labour unions within our communities. ‎The CANs attend community events to profile the union and the work it does through collective bargaining and organizing. They are also responsible for establishing a network that labour and community activists can access. By bridging this gap, labour and community groups can consolidate their efforts to become more effective and efficient in their approach to influence change. This is important because change motivates and encourages participation and CANs are effective at building strong and sustainable relationships that produce results.

The labour movement’s success and rapid growth, that occurred in the 1930’s when labour unions were mobilizing in record numbers, offered hope, vision and a better way through collective bargaining and collective action.

Today, labour unions need to look at mobilizing their current membership, re-engaging with their existing members, and building the sense of community that working people are looking for. The past holds the key to the future success of the labour movement. It is up to the current leadership and the future leadership of the labour movement to go back to the future, build on past successes and create opportunity for innovative ideas to grow and evolve. Social media and ‘hacktavisim’ should not be a substitute for direct face-to-face contact with the members. As seen in the recent provincial and federal elections, labour unions are mobilizing their membership to exercise their collective voice in support of worker friendly legislation and forming lines at the ballot box to force change that better represents workers interests. Workers are realizing that voting for candidates that push an agenda that does not meet the needs of the working class, is in essence voting against their own interests. Member mobilization is the first step to reengaging the membership and reinvigorating the membership.

About the Author

Derik McArthur

Derik McArthur began his career with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) after graduation from Confederation College with dual diplomas in Human Resources and Human Resources Management.  In 2005, he was elected as president, RWDSU Canada, and as RWDSU International Vice-President/Canadian director. The following year, he was elected to international Vice-President of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) – a union that represents 1.4 million members in North America. In 2012, Derik lead RWDSU Canada, the Northern Joint Council and the 11 RWDSU locals in a merger with UFCW local 175 & 633 creating UFCW’s largest local union in North America, boasting a membership of over 74,000 members. Derik is now a director with UFCW local 175 & 633 based in Mississauga, Ontario.  Derik holds a BA in Justice Studies and an MA in Interdisciplinary Studies from Royal Roads University. In his spare time Derik is an active member of the Canadian Forces Army reserve.

References

Aubrey, A. (2014). Fast-Food CEOs Earn Supersize Salaries; Workers Earn Small Potatoes. Retrieved November 18, 2015, from http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/04/22/305859588/fast-food-ceos-earn-supersized-salaries-workers-earn-small-potatoes.

Doorey, D. (2013). Law of work. Don’t confuse union density with the demand for unionization. Retrieved November 18, 2015, from http://lawofwork.ca/?p=2910#sthash.4Dc2sOXE.dpuf.

Grant, T. (2013). Canada’s shift to a nation of temporary workers. Retrieved November 18, 2015, from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/jobs/canadas-shift-to-a-nation-of-temporary-workers/article11721139/.

Lafer, G. & Allegretto, S. (2011). Does ‘right to work’ create jobs. Answers from Oklahoma. Retrieved November 18, 2015, from http://www.irle.berkeley.edu/cwed/wp/right_to_work.pdf.

Mojtehedzadeh, S. (2015, May 10). Ontario employers cashing in on temporary workers.  The Toronto Star. Retrieved November 30, 2015, from http://m.thestar.com/#/article/news/gta/2015/05/10/ontario-employers-cashing-in-on-temporary-workers.html.

Workers Action Centre. (2015, September 18). Former temp agency worker files lawsuit after being fired for speaking out. Retrieved November 30, 2015, from http://www.workersactioncentre.org/updates/former-temp-agency-worker-files-lawsuit-after-being-fired-for-speaking-out/.

The Future of Unions in Canada’s Private Sector: How Can Unions Overcome their PR Problem?

Unions face many negative perceptions, such as the notion that union workers are lazy, under worked, have job security for life, and enjoy gold-plated benefits and pension packages that others can only dream about. In light of this, how can unions overcome their PR problem?

This question was one of many that was put to a panel of labour relations practitioners and experts recently, at a roundtable discussion sponsored by Queen’s IRC, and hosted by the Canadian HR Reporter. Todd Humber, the Canadian HR Reporter’s managing editor, moderated the roundtable discussion.

In the first of three videos to be released by the Canadian HR Reporter, panelists weighed in on the future of unions in the private sector, discussed the PR problem unions may or may not have, made suggestions about what can be done to overcome it, and looked to the future for Canadian unions.

In this article, I have summarized some of the main thoughts and quotes from the panelists. You can view the full 12-minute video here:

Peter Edwards, Vice-President, Human Resources and Labour Relations, Canadian Pacific, and guest speaker with Queen’s IRC

Peter Edwards identified the stereotype of who is a union member, and offered some advice for union leadership for the future.

“When you ask young people, when you ask anybody that is even remotely connected to the world, they understand the role of unions in providing what we have today. They are a key driver for the creation of the middle class, for the reduction of work hours, the paid vacation, all sorts of benefits that we all enjoy. I think we can all agree on that.

“People say, ‘that was great, but what does the future hold for me?'”

Peter said that regardless of whether you call it a PR war or an advertising campaign, unions need to look to the future. “How do you create a vision for people? How do you put the leadership behind it? And how do you execute against that offering and attract people to what you do?

“There is a certain image that [union members] are predominantly blue collar or they’re government workers. And gee, I’m neither of those, so where do I fit in? What’s the message? Where are the people that are like me? And what can you offer me in the future?”

Peter offered an example of one way that union members may not feel like a cohesive group. “We tend to split up our benefits packages so you get exactly this, you get exactly that, and we can tailor it to your individual needs, but we don’t think of the broader need. I think that’s kind of led to the attitude that we are all on our own.”

Peter offered some advice to unions. “If the unions are going to make progress, they’ve got to make it compelling for people to belong to that group that has an affiliation and an image for them, that they can aspire to and be part of.”

Elaine Newman, mediator, arbitrator, and facilitator for the Queen’s IRC Strategic Grievance Handling program

Elaine Newman said that part of the challenge that unions may face is the attitudes about the history of unions, and young people’s attitudes towards unions.

“There are very real demographic shifts, but there’s also, I suggest, a very negative campaign that the union has to address as well.” She said there are negative and inaccurate perceptions about how unions arose, what significance they have, what value they have in maintaining a strong middle class and creating a stable workforce that can withstand economic fluctuation.

“The best possible tool, the best possible weapon that the unions have is education. The process of addressing the PR problem is one of education.” She said that people want to know: “What have the unions done, and more importantly what have they done for me lately?”

Bill Murnighan, Director of the Research Department at UNIFOR

Bill Murnighan began by debunking the stereotype that union workers ‘have it easy’.

“The private sector is going through tremendous job loss, stagnating wages and reductions in their incomes in a variety of ways, so the idea of jobs for life, and gold-plated working conditions is not the reality.”

Bill admitted that there are some highly-paid unionized workers. “But there are all sorts organized workers in hotels, in long-term care facilities, in grocery stores and elsewhere, who are far from having great security or wonderful conditions.

“I think one of the key messages we’ve heard over the last several years, is the changing dynamic that people are not resenting people from working-class—the middle-class Canadians who have good jobs—and rather turning their attention to the idea that ‘I should have those things too. Why can I not achieve a good standard of living or security in the workplace rather than trying to focus on taking away from those who already have it?'”

Bill said it’s important to focus on good PR and maintaining a positive image of the union in the community. “We continue to do our job on the ground with our membership in the communities, but also ensuring that we are seen as a voice for workers who are excluded, who are marginalized, or who are on the outside the labour market.

“I think we have to be very careful and clear that that we’re not resented by whole parts of working Canadians and that’s a fundamental challenge.”

Bill went on to refute the point that today’s workers are ‘content as is’ and don’t want to be part of a union.

“We hear regularly from our members, from people in the community, from youth, that they have significant concerns about what is evolving in the workplace and they’re looking for some way to improve that.

“I think a lot of people are concerned about their security, a lot of people are concerned about the future. They’re concerned also about their kids, and their kids’ future, and about what quality of jobs there are.

“There are different studies out there that say people actually do want to join unions, and that people are pleased to be in union. They support their organizations. The statistics show somewhere around 50,000 people a year join a union for the first time in Canada across the country.”

Bill said he doesn’t see the fundamental issue being unions. “I think the questions are about, what do Canadians want in the workplace and from their jobs? I think it’s a much broader question than about whether unions are there or not.”

Ted Mallett, Vice-President and Chief Economist with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business

Ted Mallett does not agree with Bill Murnighan about Canadians being unhappy with their jobs He said that generally most people are very satisfied with their jobs.

“We’re not talking about a PR problem, we’re talking about the general public having a fundamentally different perspective on the workplace than unions.

“The fact is, job satisfaction is driven by factors around communication, the quality of the decision-making, and your involvement in running the business. The workplace is evolving. We’re seeing higher-educated people, we’re seeing people who are more discerning with information, and they’re choosing—all surveys show—that they’d much rather work in non-unionized workplaces than a unionized ones. There are also a portion of unionized workers who would rather not be unionized.”

Ted said these kinds of shifts are important to note, and to make sure that we have the appropriate public policies to ensure that it is not a union-centered or employer-centered perspective.

Jamie Knight, Partner, Filion Wakely Thorup Angeletti

Labour lawyer Jamie Knight predicts a PR problem that unions will be facing in the next few years.

“The elephant in the room is the sweeping change in legislation in the United States where there are more and more right-to-work states.

“There has been significant legislative changes in Saskatchewan. We have a major political party in Ontario, in a minority government situation, that has a white paper that clearly spells out its intention to bring forward legislation to transform Ontario’s Labour Relations Act, and move towards a system whereby there is no dues deduction automatically enforced, when a trade union secures the right to represent workers in workplace.

“That’s the PR campaign that is going to play out, and it’s going to play out in the next Ontario election. There’s a very real possibility that the next government will be formed by a party that proposes to follow the recent example of Michigan, which is a primary competitor for Ontario jobs. That’s the campaign that I think is going to be the interesting one.

“The issue—and it’s not my issue, it’s the political issue on the table—is whether or not the Rand formula is going to be done away with in the province of Ontario. And if the Rand formula, which provides for automatic dues deduction in a unionized environment is done away with, how does the trade union respond to that, in a scenario where dues essentially become voluntary as opposed to imposed.”

Mining the Past to Build a Better Future in Occupational Health and Safety

The Ontario mining industry in the mid-70’s faced accident rates higher than any other industrial sector. In 1976, there were 19 fatalities, 12.5 lost time injuries (LTI’s) per 100 workers. Wildcat strikes by miners in Elliot Lake and considerable political pressure on a minority government, led to the creation of the Royal Commission on Health and Safety of Workers in Mines. It was headed up by Dr. James Ham, an engineering professor from the University of Toronto. The report, known as The Ham Report, was tabled on June 30, 1976 and it changed the occupational health and safety system in the province of Ontario – and not just for the mining sector.

On October 1, 1979, the Occupational Health and Safety Act came into force. It applies to all workers in Ontario with the exception of workers under federal jurisdiction. By looking at the evolution of the mining industry, in terms of health and safety, we can see that this old and yet still strategically important industry, can teach us how to build a better future for occupational health and safety in Canada’s workplaces.

The Internal Responsibility System

Dr. James Ham is arguably the father of occupational health and safety in Canada. He coined the concept of “Internal Responsibility System” (IRS). Although it is a term that was defined in the Ham Report, and it has been honed over time in practice. It can be defined as follows: The internal responsibility system is a safety management system that outlines clear roles and accountabilities for workplace parties with direct and contributory responsibility for health and safety. The following diagram shows the various workplace players and illustrates the concept.

Internal Responsibility System (IRS) Chain of Responsibility

While IRS is at the foundation of Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) legislation, federal and provincial, there has always been controversy in its definition. In 1990, while I was chairing the Provincial Inquiry into Health and Safety of Workers in the Pulp and Paper industry, I heard from Dr. Ham in testimony. The IRS diagram at the time had the Ministry of Labour as having an external contributing role. He corrected that notion. Government must not be seen as part of the IRS but as an external “check on the system”. Of course, without a strong enforcement component, without a strong “check in the system” the system eventually collapses. Orders by Ministry of Labour inspectors are issued and complied with, but if their orders aren’t or if there are contraventions that lead to critical injuries or fatalities, penalties are severe: $500,000 per charge for corporations. For individuals, it is up to $25,000 per charge or 1 year in prison.

One misunderstanding of the IRS is that mandated health and safety committees carry the primary responsibilities for health and safety in a workplace. In fact, the system ensures that all parties have roles: some direct and some indirect or contributory. Joint Health and Safety Committees have an important role as the internal check on the IRS and on workplace safety.

Revolution in Ontario Mining Safety

In April 2007, the International Association of Labour Inspectors Conference met in Toronto for the first time in North America.

One of the presentations was called “Revolution in Ontario Mining Safety: How the Transformation Happened.” Representing labour was Leo Girard, President of the International United Steelworkers of America. Industry was represented by Chris Hodgson, President of the Ontario Mining Association, and I was the government representative, then with the Ontario Ministry of Labour.

The panel attempted to answer the question of how the injury statistics had changed from 12.5 LTIs per 100 workers in 1976, to 0.8 LTIs per 100 workers in 2006, (to 0.3 LTIs per 100 workers in 2012). Fatalities had gone from 19 in 1976 to 3 in 2006 (with 2 fatalities in 2012). The chart below shows the LTI rates from 1927-2011.

Chart - Ontario Mining Industry Lost-Time (Compensable) Injury Rates 1927 to 2011

How did this happen? At the time, three reasons stood out: improvements in technology, mandatory training for all workers and supervisors (the only sector at that time) and tripartite solutions: defining IRS, Joint Health and Safety Committees, Mining Legislature Review Committee, and training standards development in a consensus model with agreement from labour, industry and government.

Workplace culture is an important aspect of productivity and profitability. It is also a primary reason why some sectors and some companies have exceptionally low injury rates. We can consider the SARS case: Justice Archie Campbell suggested in his report on the SARS Inquiry in December 2006 that the health care sector lacked basic safety culture and workplace safety systems. The report revealed that training in occupational health and safety is not a mandatory subject for nurses at Ontario’s colleges and universities. The accident rates in that sector remain higher than mining, when intuitively they should be lower. Since 2006, some, but very few, Ontario health care facilities can boast that they are as safe as is the mining industry.

In most mining operations, lost-time injuries, medical aids, and even near-misses are tracked, and continuous improvement systems ensure that a road to zero harm is laid out. If you think that the holy grail of zero lost-time injuries is unachievable, last year’s national winner of the John T. Ryan Award for excellence in mining safety, Kidd Creek Mine in Timmins, Ontario, achieved a zero LTI rate in 2012.

What about your organization? Calculate what LTI’s cost your company in direct and indirect costs. Calculate what risks are imposed if there is a chance for a fatality, and who will be held responsible.

Basic to good management is a competent safety management system. Mining, a very old and usually reputed “dangerous” sector, has shown that the road of zero harm is possible and all accidents can be prevented.

About the Author

Vic Pakalnis

Vic Pakalnis, P. Eng., MBA. M. Eng., is the President and Chief Executive Officer of MIRARCO Mining Innovation. He received his mining engineering degrees from McGill and an MBA from Queen’s. He has over 30 years of experience in occupational health and safety at the Ontario Ministry of Labour. He served as the Amethyst Fellow at the Queen’s School of Policy Studies and as the Kinross Professor in Mining and Sustainability at the Queen’s Buchan Department of Mining Engineering. In 2012, he relocated to Sudbury to head up MIRARCO Mining Innovation at Laurentian University, Sudbury.

Whither the Trade Unions?

The trade union movement in Canada, as in many other industrial countries, is in the throes of change. Among other things, it is grappling with pressures stemming from the rapid pace of economic and technological change as well as shifts in business practices, employment patterns and social attitudes. This report briefly examines some of the challenges facing trade unions on the eve of the new millennium.

Download PDF: Whither the Trade Unions?

Who Makes the Decisions? Women’s Participation in Canadian Unions

The purpose of this report is to determine whether women are increasingly being involved in the decision-making process of Canadian unions. The scope of review of this report is restricted to public sector unions and one private sector union in the province of Ontario. A combination of methods were utilized in completing this study, including an overview of existing research, a review of statistical data, and an analysis of policy statements, convention resolutions and general union literature.

The results of this review indicate that labour organizations have paid significant and increasing attention to women’s issues over the past 15 to 20 years; union policies have encompassed aspects of women’s inequality within the union, in the workplace and in society. Many unions, particularly the central labour organizations, have adopted policies of internal affirmative action, they have increased the amount of education available to staff and union members on women’s issues, they have implemented policies providing child care services during union functions such as conventions and workshops, and they have provided regular coverage of women’s issues in membership publications.

While these progressive policies are a positive indication of the unions’ commitment to attaining women’s equality, they are not a guarantee of prolonged or significant increases in women’s participation in union decision-making activities. Labour organizations must be careful not to overestimate the effectiveness of their policies, and they must redouble their efforts to win the battle against discrimination within their hierarchies and structures. To this end, unions must ensure that their policies are fully implemented in practice. They must also continue to educate their staff and union members about the benefits of providing women with equal opportunities. The labour movement can only grow stronger through greater solidarity between its union sisters and brothers.

Download PDF: Who Makes the Decisions? Women’s Participation in Canadian Unions

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

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.

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

Union Organizing Activity in Ontario, 1970-1986

The Canadian labour movement entered the 1980s in a state of great uncertainty. Following almost forty years of steady uninterrupted growth the union movement in Canada experienced in the early 1980s losses in the total number of union members. Although these losses in the absolute number of union members were recouped in the mid-1980s, the proportion of nonagricultural paid workers who are union members dropped from 1983 to 1986 to a level that had been achieved in the mid-1970s. This important indicator of union strength seemed to confirm much speculation about the stagnation or perhaps decline of the union movement in Canada.

Another critical indicator of the condition of the labour movement in Canada is the level and composition of new organizing activity that is conducted. In order to be vibrant and to maintain past levels of strength the union movement must successfully recruit new members into the union fold. The purpose of this study is to examine the labour movement’s performance in this critical work in Ontario, the province of Canada with the largest number of union members.

The method of analysis in this study is statistical. Aggregate data on the number of certifications and decertifications granted by the Ontario Labour Relations Board in the years 1970-1986 has been compiled into series tables. These tables are the primary source for analyzing the union movement’s organizing activity in Ontario in the past two decades. They also provide a new perspective from which to assess the condition of the Canadian labour movement in the 1980s.

Download PDF: Union Organizing Activity in Ontario, 1970-1986

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