The Bargaining Process

What is Collective Bargaining?

Collective bargaining is the process by which unions negotiate new collective agreements, which are the contracts that set the conditions of work for all unionized employees. In bargaining, the union and the employer sit at the table as equals to hash out what needs to be improved, what needs to be protected, and what needs to change in order to have a fair, equitable, and healthy workplace. Both sides bring proposals to the table, and then negotiate a settlement, which then becomes the new collective agreement once the membership ratifies it, i.e. votes in favour of the proposed new CAs. There are many different legal steps in the bargaining process, including, if necessary, the strike or lockout.

What Are the Steps of the Bargaining Process?

Convening the Bargaining Team & Conducting Surveys
The membership of each unit elects up to three members to represent them at the bargaining table. There is also one all-units recording secretary. Click here to see the members of your bargaining team. 

The Bargaining Team, in collaboration with the union’s executive and the Bargaining Research Committee, conducts surveys of the membership to collect data on members’ experiences, needs, and priorities. 

Fill out your bargaining survey here soon!

  • Unit 1 (full-time graduate students with teaching, tutoring, grading, or other related work contracts)
  • Unit 2 (contract faculty; members with teaching contracts who are not full-time graduate students)
  • Unit 3 (full-time graduate students doing research, clerical, or administrative work)

Writing and Approving Bargaining Proposals
Based on the results of the bargaining surveys, the bargaining team will draft proposals for changes to the collective agreements that they believe respond to the needs and priorities identified by the membership. Each of these proposals is brought to a general membership meeting (GMM) for approval. Members can also bring their own proposals to GMMs to ask that they be approved and included in the proposal package. Approving proposals is done by the membership of each unit (i.e. Unit 1 votes on Unit 1 proposals, Unit 2 on Unit 2 proposals, and Unit 3 on Unit 3 proposals). 

Giving Notice
The collective agreements for Units 1, 2, and 3 expire on August 31st, 2023. Either side can provide “Notice to Bargain” at the earliest 90 days before the CAs expire. This notice informs the other side that we are ready to bargain. The earliest Notice to Bargain can be given is June 1st. After Notice is given, bargaining meetings must begin.    

Early Negotiations
In the early stages of bargaining, each side presents their proposals. This usually includes explaining how the proposal would work, but also what problem or issue it is trying to address. Some proposals may be “reserved” which means telling the other side that there’s going to be a proposal on a specific topic, but that we’re not ready to give specifics yet. 

Once proposals have been presented and understood, the sides begin presenting their responses, which can take the form of accepting the proposal, rejecting it, or suggesting a counter-proposal. The latter means acknowledging that an issue should be addressed, but offering a different solution or tweaking the proposed language. Where agreement can be reached on particular proposals, they are set aside as agreed. This is called a “sign-off” because both parties sign to indicate their agreement. 

Conciliation & No-Board Report
If bargaining reaches an impasse, i.e. there is one or several points of contention that cannot be agreed upon using the counter-sign-off compromise method, either party can file for conciliation. The Ministry of Labour will assign a conciliator, which is a third party who will attempt to bring the parties closer on the issues where there isn’t agreement. 

If conciliation does not succeed, either party can ask the conciliator for something called a “No Board Report”. This report is written up by the conciliator, certifying that conciliation has not been successful and that the parties are at an impasse.

There is a cooling off period of 17 days after the No Board Report is issued. After those 17 days elapse, the parties are now in a legal strike or lock-out position. For the union side, there is also the requirement to have a strike mandate vote. 

Strike Mandate Vote
The Strike Mandate Vote serves two purposes: it meets the requirements to be in legal strike position, and it serves as a strong bargaining tool. A strong strike mandate is often necessary to give the employer incentive to move at the bargaining table; in fact, in all the rounds of CUPE 3903-York bargaining in our living memory, the employer has dragged out easy non-monetary proposals until there is a strike mandate. 

The Strike Mandate Vote can take place at any time, but its scheduling will depend on how bargaining is going, as well as strategic implications at the bargaining table. Ideally, the union wants to have a strike mandate before the No Board Report cooling off period expires, because the employer does not need to do an equal extra step before starting a lockout. 

Strikes in CUPE 3903
The above lists the legal requirements for a strike. CUPE 3903’s bylaws go above and beyond to make sure that, if a strike is necessary, it is coming from the members and their needs are met.From approving the proposals to regular GMMs to discuss bargaining, the Bargaining Team takes its direction from the membership. 

While legally, the executive committee takes the vote that begins the strike, the exec will not do so without a vote from the membership to that effect. This vote usually takes place at something called the Final Offer SGMM. At this meeting, the bargaining team will present the best offer they were able to negotiate at the bargaining table, and offer their recommendation of whether it should be accepted. There is then a vote to accept, or not, the employer’s offer. If the offer is rejected, there is then a conversation about next steps, which can include a vote to go on strike. It can also involve a vote for the bargaining team to return to the table with a set of specific renewed priorities, which was done successfully in 2011. 

If there is a strike, the membership will vote on a strike policy, which will become the rules and regulations guiding the strike committee. This document will include alternate duties and other accommodations for those who cannot participate in traditional picket duties. Members who participate in the strike receive strike pay.  

What’s a lockout?
A lockout is when the employer forces workers to stop working in order to put pressure on the union to settle for the employer’s demands at the bargaining table. An employer can do this at any point in time as long as the 17 day cooling-off period after the No Board Report has elapsed. 

Practically, this would look like a strike: the membership would pass a policy, set up picket lines and other strike duties, and receive strike pay. Despite its similarities, a lockout is fundamentally different from a strike: instead of a show of collective power by workers to protect their rights in the workplace, it is an act of aggression from an employer to suppress workers’ rights.   

Settlement and Ratification
Whether the settlement presented at the Final Offer SGMM is accepted, or a settlement is negotiated during a strike, eventually the parties do come to an agreement. That agreement goes to something called a ratification vote. This will be an online vote of all members. A simple majority is required for the settlement to become the new collective agreement, although we always aim for high support; a settlement that just squeaks by ratification is a clear sign of problems in the workplace that will only fester until the next bargaining round.