Collective Bargaining FAQ

What is a collective agreement?

A collective agreement is a written contract between the university and a union that outlines many of the terms and conditions of employment for employees in a bargaining unit.

The terms and conditions are reached through collective bargaining between the university and the union.

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What is collective bargaining?

Collective bargaining is a process by which a committee representing the union (made up of employees and union representatives) and a committee representing the university (made up of management representatives and managerial employees) negotiate a collective agreement.

It can be for the negotiation of a first contract where there has not been a collective agreement previously, or a renewal contract in the case of an existing collective agreement. In this process, the parties usually focus on such issues as wages, benefits and working conditions.

With several certified bargaining units at Queen’s, collective bargaining is a normal part of the labour relations cycle.

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What is conciliation?

Conciliation occurs following the submission of a request by the union or the university to the Ontario Ministry of Labour to appoint a conciliator to serve as a neutral third party to help the parties resolve their differences.  The parties can also file a joint request to appoint a conciliation officer.

A request for conciliation is a common occurrence during collective bargaining.

Conciliation must be completed before the union can be in a position to engage in a legal strike, or the university can be in a legal position to lock-out employees in the bargaining unit.

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What if the university and the union do not reach agreement during conciliation?

The conciliation officer informs the Minister of Labour that the union and the university have not reached  agreement on a collective agreement during the conciliation process. While the Minister has the option at this point to appoint a Conciliation Board this practice is rare.  As such, the conciliation officer asks the Minister of Labour to issue what is known as a “No Board” report. The 17th calendar day after the date of the No Board report becomes the “strike deadline” date – on or after that date, the union is legally allowed to call a strike, and the university is legally allowed to lock-out employees in the bargaining unit.

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Is there any further assistance available from the Ministry of Labour after a No Board report gets issued?

Between the date of the No Board report and the strike deadline date, the Ministry will appoint a mediation officer to facilitate further negotiations leading up to the strike deadline date.

The mediation officer appointed is typically the same person who provided conciliation services to the parties. This helps ensure that the mediation officer has continuity with the parties and a thorough understanding of the outstanding issues.

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Must there be a strike vote before a strike can take place?

Yes.

A strike vote by secret ballot is required before a union can lawfully commence a strike of employees in the bargaining unit.

A union holding a strike vote is a common occurrence in collective bargaining and does not mean that a strike will occur.

All employees in a bargaining unit have the right to participate in such a vote and must have ample opportunity to cast a ballot at a reasonably convenient time and place.

The strike vote must be taken within 30 days before the collective agreement expires or at any time after the collective agreement expires. In the case of a first collective agreement, the vote must be conducted after the appointment of a conciliation officer. In either case, a majority (50% +1) of those voting by secret ballot must vote in favour of strike action in order for the union to be able to call a strike on or after the strike deadline date.

This is a vote that is conducted entirely by the union; it is not supervised by the Ministry of Labour. It is entirely up to the union as to whether it releases the specific vote results. The outcome of the vote will tell the union whether the employees in the bargaining unit authorize the union to call a strike. As a result, all bargaining unit members are encouraged to participate in the vote.

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What is a strike?

The Labour Relations Act defines a strike as “a cessation of work, refusal to work or to continue to work, by employees in combination or in concert or in accordance with a common understanding, or slow-down or other concerted activity on the part of employees designed to restrict or limit output.”

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When is a union in a legal strike position?

After the parties have met with a conciliator, if they have not been able to settle all outstanding matters, the conciliator will report this to the Minister of Labour. Typically, the Minister then issues a No Board report.

The union is in a position to commence a legal strike at 12:01 am on the 17th calendar day after the date on the No Board report.

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Is a union permitted to picket during a strike?

Yes. During a strike, the union will often form picket lines at the workplace. Picketers are legally permitted to carry signs stating the nature of the dispute, speak to people entering the property about their concerns, and ask people entering the property to join the picket line. However, picketers are not permitted to:

Picket on university property;

Blockade access to the university;

Use force, threats, or threatening gestures to prevent people from coming onto university property, including students, any employee wanting to attend work and visitors;

Otherwise engage in unlawful behaviour.

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Can the university request a vote of employees on the university’s final offer?

Yes. Any time (before or after the commencement of a strike or lock-out), the university may ask the Minister of Labour to direct a vote of the employees in the affected bargaining unit as to their acceptance or rejection of the university’s final offer on all matters remaining in dispute.

Upon the receipt of such a request, the Minister must direct that a vote, to accept or reject the university’s offer, be conducted.

The vote is supervised and conducted by Ministry of Labour officials and the result of the vote is public. This process can only be used once

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What does it mean if the union and university reach a “tentative agreement?”

A tentative agreement means the university’s and the union’s negotiating teams have agreed to the terms of a collective agreement, but the terms have not yet been agreed to (“ratified”) by the bargaining unit members or the university’s governing body.

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What is “ratification”? How does this work?

Ratification by the union is the process by which members of the bargaining unit vote to accept or reject the terms of the collective agreement that the university and union have negotiated. The ratification vote happens at the end of collective bargaining, after the university and the union have reached a tentative agreement.

All members of the bargaining unit have the right to vote. Each person gets one vote. The vote must be conducted by secret ballot. The collective agreement is considered “ratified” by the bargaining unit if a majority (50% +1) of those voting accept the terms of the tentative collective agreement.

A collective agreement is ratified by the university, when the tentative agreement is approved by the Human Resources sub-committee of the Board of Trustees.

Once both parties have ratified the tentative collective agreement, it is finalized and implemented.

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