Why Not an Offer Vote?

Right.  So, the College Employer Council (i.e., “College Management”) bargaining team presented a “comprehensive offer of settlement to extend the existing collective agreement” to the OPSEU CAAT-A (i.e., “College Faculty” bargaining team) on August 1, and then, having not received a response to a proposed four-year deal within a week, decided to present the offer directly to faculty, provincewide.

You can find both the text of the offer (August 1) and the summarizing “Academic Bargaining Update” (August 8) linked to the right-hand column.

I hope to talk about the offer soon — to try to crunch the numbers about what the proposed salary increases really amount to, and to try to put them in some context, as well as to try to figure out the difference between “extend[ing] the existing collective agreement” vs. negotiating a new Collective Agreement.  (Particularly when your proposal contains changes to about six different articles or letters of understanding, no less).

[Aside: So clearly I’m missing something, but my reading of Part III, Section 8 (2) of the Colleges Collective Bargaining Act, 2008 suggests that a Collective Agreement can only be extended “for a period of less than one year”, not the four-year period proposed in the Employer’s “Extension Agreement”.  Can one of you legal types help me to square the Employer’s proposal with, er, existing legislation?  Operators are standing by at ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com.]

But regardless of the title affixed to management’s proposal or the contents therein, I just wanted to focus for now on one little section of the College Employer Council’s Academic Bargaining Update, published today.  It reads:

sanctimony

Happily, everything old is recyclable again, so I’m happy to reuse a portion of a post that I wrote on January 28, 2010, as follows…

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In short, the colleges have put forth an offer that they feel is [. . .] satisfactory to the faculty, and they wish faculty to vote on it, directly.  I know of an excellent way for the colleges to ensure that such a vote occurs:

They can conduct the vote themselves.  Just like the recent legislation gave them the right to do.

Yup, the Colleges Collective Bargaining Act, 2008, says,

The Council may, no earlier than 15 days before the expiry of a collective agreement, make a request in writing to the Ontario Labour Relations Board that a vote of the employees be taken to accept or reject the offer of the Council last received by the employee organization in respect of all matters remaining in dispute between the parties to the collective agreement.

Only one [such] request may be made. . . .

 

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Of course, if the Employer could somehow persuade OPSEU to hold a vote on their offer (instead of, you know, the Employer holding a vote on their own offer), then it’s the people from the College faculty Locals who get to devote the hundreds of labour hours needed provincewide to notify the membership, hold pre-vote meetings, organize advanced polling, staff the polling booths, and count the ballots.

That would be a ridiculous amount of work for the Union to put in, to facilitate a vote on a contract that they don’t even want.

Best of all, if that offer were rejected by the membership, the Employer could get to “urge” OPSEU to hold a vote on their next offer (and the next, and the next).

My reading of the CCBA (specifically, Part IV, Section 17 [2]) indicates that the Union holds a vote for an offer/settlement that it supports; conversely the Employer has the right to force a vote on the offer that it wants faculty to vote on.

Let’s just review that language for a moment: “The Council may, no earlier than 15 days before the expiry of a collective agreement, make a request in writing to the Ontario Labour Relations Board that a vote of the employees be taken” (emphasis added).  According to legislation, the College Employer Council’s requests for votes on offers are supposed to be directed to the Ontario Labour Relations Board, not to the Union.

So what do we have here, in the end?  Well, it’s kind of summed up neatly in the FAQ section of Employer Council’s Academic Bargaining Update, which reads in part:

KindofSad.jpg

In short, the Employer’s bargaining position is that OPSEU should not hold the vote that it intends to hold, but should instead hold the vote that the Employer wants it to hold: A vote on a four-year “settlement” that fails to incorporate any significant faculty demands.

Well, I suppose that’s one way to do things, and hey — it probably takes a lot less energy than, you know. . .  actually bargaining.

[Lastly, I’m struck that this offer states on the front page that it will be withdrawn on August 24.  Given that it’s being distributed in public on August 8, has the Employer given any indication of when, specifically it “urges” for this vote to take place?  Before or after the offer’s withdrawal date?  Enquiring minds want to know.]

Strike Vote Requested

Well, the College Faculty bargaining team has called for the Ontario Labour Relations Board to hold a strike authorization vote, as indicated in this press release (and this article).

To my knowledge, a successful strike authorization vote would permit this bargaining team to be first CAAT-A bargaining team ever to be supported by a strike mandate prior to the expiry of the existing Collective Agreement.

What that would mean (and what I expect is part of the team’s strategy) is that, if a successful strike vote were to be held in mid-September, then the last few scheduled dates of bargaining between the two teams could be more productive, given that management would know that a strike could be imminent if no settlement were reached.

(Obviously, an unsuccessful strike vote would have the opposite effect, which leads to the general conclusion that management has little reason to make any significant compromise in negotiating, until the Union membership gives their team a strike authorization mandate.  It’s for this reason that I typically tell members that — until a successful strike mandate has been obtained — our “bargaining demands” are simply “bargaining requests”.)

So, judging from the press releases and publications, it seems that the Faculty bargaining team is driving hard to compel a meaningful engagement at the bargaining table concerning some of the major non-monetary demands, such as academic freedom and collegial governance (on the one hand), and improved job security for contract faculty, on the other.

If either of you are in the mood to get into the weeds of negotiating, I would encourage you look at the actual contract language put forth by the faculty bargaining team in pp. 5-24 of this document (pages 1-4 include the Union’s contextual positioning statement) — there’s quite a bit there (not least of which a demand for a minimum “Full-Time faculty : Contract faculty” saffing ratio and meaningful seniority for Partial-Load faculty.  (Actually, the proposed changes to Article 26, on Partial-Load Faculty, are fairly extensive and profound, and appear to me to incorporate much of the spirit of the Liberals’ new Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act.  If either of you happen to be contract faculty, I would invite you to send your feedback on them, at ontariocollegeprof.ca — all responses will be kept strictly confidential.)

So, I’m kind of reminded of the last time I bought a car.  It’s in the buyer’s interest to negotiate the price of the car before negotiating the price of a trade-in or applying any discounts; it’s in the seller’s interest to combine all of the factors (sale price, trade-in value, financing, discounts) in one big “deal”.  I realize that’s a somewhat awkward metaphor, but the essential point is that the Faculty bargaining team seems to be pushing hard to compel the Management team to negotiate some of the top faculty demands before moving on to others; management seems to be. . . reluctant to do so, and (in its public statements) somewhat ambiguous about what, specifically, it is attempting to obtain at the negotiating table.

The Faculty bargaining team has already requested (and received) a Ministry conciliator, presumably in order to spur on negotiations; it is requesting a strike authorization vote, presumably in order to get a meaningful show of faculty support behind those efforts.

So, feel free to share (at ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com) any thoughts with both of the readers of this blog: Should a strike vote wait until after all scheduled days of bargaining have elapsed and proven fruitless?  How do you think the proposed changes to Article 26 would impact the lives of Partial-Load faculty?  (In particular, would the proposed new Article 26.09A be a change that might impact how Partial-Load might vote in a strike authorization vote?)