Nothing Ado about Much

Okay, sports fans, well, the current round of contract negotiations is well underway! And let me say that, from the broadcast booth, this game seems to have all the excitement of a soccer match between Iceland and Kazakhstan.

We’re nearing the end of the first half of regulation time in the match — if this schedule is accurate, then eight of the scheduled 22 scheduled days of bargaining have elapsed already, with three more scheduled for this week.

And, um, maybe something’s happening – I’m not sure. (My tickets are in the nosebleed section.)

So in the spirit of sports broadcasters everywhere, during a lull in the action I’m going to turn to a clip of highlights from the match thus far. Here we go!

The Union’s bargaining team adopted a “whole field” strategy from the outset, tabling initial proposals that covered (I believe) pretty much all of the changes that the team was charged with pursuing by each Local’s elected delegates. From what I can tell, the only proposals that weren’t fully developed at that point were the salary proposals, for which the Union issued a fairly broad claim that it would later present specific salary proposals that would be designed to keep College faculty salaries between those of Ontario’s high school teachers and its University professors.

In contrast, the management’s bargaining team elected to adopt a highly defensive strategy, keeping all of their strikers on the bench until some yet-to-be-determined time in the future. In other words, they presented only a fraction of their intended proposals, withholding any that were related to either salaries or benefits (you know, small things like sick leave). More specifically, the management team said that it was withholding all proposals which might end up costing (or saving) the Colleges money, so that would likely include workload issues, as well.

So: Salaries, benefits, workload. I think we could conclude that there’s a significant amount that the management’s bargaining team is holding back from the bargaining process at this time.

Now, I’m no expert on bargaining, but it seems to me that if the government legislation restricts the bargaining process to 90 days, then it might be a good idea to, you know, present your proposals at the outset.

It’s hard to say what’s motivating the College management team’s delay. And looking at the Colleges Employer Council’s latest press release, I’m still a bit confused. “The Council” reported only that, during the last days of negotations…

…the [College management’s] team asked questions to clarify the union proposals and to assess the potential cost implications of those proposals. The costing exercise is very important to ensure that we achieve a negotiated settlement that respects the fiscal and budgetary realities facing the colleges.

Fair enough. And permit me to make only two small observations:

  1. I believe that provincial educational budgets are intended to accommodate negotiated settlements, not vice versa. And as I mentioned previously, the ability to recognize that priority might distinguish between public servants and political ones.
  2. Given that the College management’s bargaining team is (rightfully) taking its time to consider the monetary implications of the Union’s proposals, it would seem appropriate that the faculty (and their bargaining team) might enjoy the same luxury of a leisurely analysis of the implications of the management’s own monetary proposals

And (oh, what the heck) a third:

Armed with no legal or bargaining experience or insider’s knowledge (but with a passing familiarity with Google), I note that the Ontario Labour Relations Board argues that negotiations must be conducted in such a way as to facilitate agreement between both parties. More specifically, the OLRB has concluded that one side’s “refusal to supply the other side with information necessary to its decision-making capability” was found to be an instance of bad faith bargaining (Devilbiss Canada Limited  [1976] ). Similarly, “the unwillingness of one party to engage in a full discussion with the other was likewise found contrary” to the obligation to bargain in good faith (Canadian Industries Limited [1976]).

To sum up, the OLRB concludes that:

… the duty to bargain in good faith and make every reasonable effort to make a collective agreement is to foster rational and informed discussion. The duty requires parties to engage in full and honest discussion” (Association of Management, Administrative and Professional Crown Employees of Ontario, Applicant v. Crown in Right of Ontario [2012]).

So my sincere, non-rhetorical question to any better-informed people than me out there is this:

At what point in the bargaining process can we conclude that one party’s withholding of significant proposals from the bargaining table violates the legal obligation to engage in full and honest discussion?

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