Saturday, December 17, 2011

What Union-Management Negotiations Are Really Like and How To View the City of Toronto - CUPE 416 Negotiations

I love reading about labor relations in the media. The linked article is a good example. In it Daniel Dale reports that the City of Toronto has asked for a Provincial Conciliator to join its negotiations with CUPE Local 416 (numbered after the city's original area code). And CUPE maintains the Mayor wants a lockout. The Mayor says he wants an agreement.

Based on my 35 years of being involved in union-management negotiations, let me share with you what is really going on here.

Union negotiating committees are usually made up of one business agent representative from the union local business office -- usually a non-employee of the organization or company whose collective agreement is being negotiated.  The rest are employees who have likely negotiated years earlier that their wages and benefits are covered while they negotiate a collective agreement.  Now think of that for a moment.  Management is paying for a whole team of union members to sit across the table and negotiate against them.  Meanwhile, in critical situations, they have to arrange for back-fill for some of these positions, pay over-time, change schedules, etc.  And that often includes "union team's planning meetings".

Clearly, it is to the union negotiating team member's advantage to take their sweet time in negotiations.  Short days, many days, free meals, as long as some minimum progress can be said to be made.

Most collective agreements though have a clause that says all this paying for union time stops when either a conciliator or mediator joins the process.  I'm not sure of what this collective agreement says, but if it's like most, one can now see why management wants the conciliator there -- it is saving the taxpayers money and will do so until the an agreement is reached.  If the union wants to take their sweet time about things, they can, but they're now paying for all the union members' time.  At worse, the paying for meetings policy stops once there's a clearance to proceed to a strike or lockout.

It is true that once a conciliator gets involved, if either side feels that no progress is made, it can ask for a "no board" report which basically says "there is currently no hope of a settlement, so there's no point of appointing a board to hear and try to settle the matter -- the parties need to cool off and if necessary they can do it soon with a lockout or a strike."   So to get that report does not mean that either a strike or a lockout must occur, but it gives the parties those options should it be necessary to use one of them.

Unions like to think that they are the only ones that can exercise a decision to call for a conciliator and its not fair game if management does it.  But the reality is that what is good for the goose, is good for the gander.  I experienced that recently with one of my clients during negotiations -- we, management, called for conciliation after just a few meetings where we believed the union was dragging its feet and we stopped paying for union members' negotiating time.  They got royally riled.  But we stuck by our guns.  A strike followed (not a lockout) to pay us back,  And the union finally settled after four bitter months of being out while supervisors proved they could run the plant as well.  No gains to speak of were made as a result of the strike.   The next agreement after that was settled very quickly.  Management had set a precedent that it wasn't afraid to use again.

So now you know the rest of the story.  Yes, Mr. Ford, is trying to save my tax dollars, and if you live in Toronto, yours too.  Many other municipalities should take note.

Toronto News: Ford-CUPE war of words escalates -

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