Analysis written by Rod Bemister, Steward Local 561 1989-Present, Former President and Vice President Local 561, Bargaining Team Member 2000-13, Bargaining Team Chair 2005-13, EERC Member 2000-13, EERC Chair 2000-08, OPSEU Executive Board Member 2011-13
On July 28th, we were notified that we had reached an agreement to extend our Collective Agreement until 2022. This deal was reached after two days of bargaining with 3 members of our Division Executive. They are recommending we take this deal. We need to take back OUR bargaining and am suggesting that we turn down this deal for four reasons and hope after you read that you share that opinion. Can we regain control of our agenda? Can we put our issues forward to be discussed? Can we determine the terms of our agreement? YES, WE CAN, but we need to turn down this offer first. If anyone has any questions, please email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
You didn’t have any input to issues that were brought forward, information that this bargaining was happening, and any ability to influence the outcome. In our meeting we were told Management approached us with this deal, in order to achieve labour peace during the 2018 election period, Management set the agenda for the meetings, limited the amount of participants from our DIVEX (there are 5 members, only 3 were at the table), determined the terms in the agreement and lastly, determined that this was time sensitive agreement and had to have agreement within a specific time frame.
If this is OUR Collective Agreement, why did Management dictate everything and should we not have been able to participate, other than a vote to accept this secret deal?
We were told in our meeting that if you think that we can do better bargaining a Collective Agreement, then turn this down, we will elect a bargaining team and the process will be carried out. However, it will take hard work and a lot of mobilizing to get a better deal, and there are no guarantees. I agree there are no guarantees, but I have always believed Support Staff aren’t afraid of hard work, and that we can mobilize, we have done so in the past and I believe we would do so in the future. We won’t get the chance to prove that unless this “offer” is turned down.
In the 2016 Federal Budget, the government announced that it would be “providing more flexibility in parental leave benefits to better accommodate unique family and work situations. These objectives will be advanced over the course of the Government’s mandate.”
In the 2017 Federal Budget, the government announced that it would be extending current Maternity/Parental Leave provisions in the Employment Insurance Act, to allow for employees to choose a 78 week leave period or a 52 week leave period. They also announced that if an employee chooses the longer period, they would have the maximum per week EI benefit of 55% maximum per week limit, reduced to a 33% maximum per week benefit over 78 weeks. This legislation has not been written, no one knows the effect this will have on our Collective Agreement.
Management’s proposal would effectively, lower the amount per week that the employer would have to top up to, rather than topping up to 93% like found in our current Collective Agreement language. However, the government is giving employers and employees a 4 year transition period ending Jan. 2021 to get their SUB plans and collective agreements lined up to match EI regulations. The regulations have not been written yet, so I ask, what’s the hurry, and why would we make changes to the Collective Agreement without seeing the changes to the Act? Our current Collective Agreement ends August 31, 2018, more than enough time to meet the deadline of Jan. 2021, which again prompts me to ask, should we not have been able to participate, other than just a vote to accept/reject this proposal?
The reality is the government could change regulations and the top up percentage at any time. Do I suspect that they will make changes, yes I do. Do I suspect that those changes will be management friendly, yes I do. Do I know what the changes will look like, no I do not and anyone claiming to know would be incorrect. Even HR professionals and labour lawyers are unsure of what the changes might be.
Much anticipated legislative reforms to the Employment Insurance (EI) regime in Canada will extend parental and maternity EI benefits and expand access to critically ill children benefits.
We wouldn’t buy a car, without knowing the details about the car. Why would we buy these changes, without knowing the changes in the legislation? Accepting these changes, without seeing the changes to the Act, could have the effect of lowering our ability to access full top up under the law and hit new parents in the pocketbook.
The economic reality is, during the extension period hydro rate freezes will be coming off, gas prices trending upwards and things like mortgage rate going up, etc. The Bank of Canada has already indicated that the inflation rate will be close to 2% in 2018 and a little over in 2019, and is predicted to go to 2.4% in 2020. This would mean the proposed raises will not even cover the rate of inflation over the next 4 years.
Add to that, the Colleges’ have offered a better deal to the faculty, after they announced they would be taking a strike vote. It’s the same percentage increase, but, it’s not broken down into steps, there is no 18 month gap between raises, and they have the ability to go back to the bargaining table to achieve a larger raise in 2021, where we would already be locked in. Our Union has already stated that the money offered to faculty “does not keep up with inflation”. My question is how is our offer of money acceptable to the Union, when it’s less than what was offered faculty. The answer presented in our meeting was that they have different issues and are in bargaining. Which prompts me to ask should we not have been able to participate and bring our issues to the table, rather than just a voting to accept/reject this proposal?
In the pictures below, you can see in Figure 1, how the raises offered to faculty (2% up front) and the proposed stepped increases offered to us, make a difference and would give the faculty a larger increase than proposed to us. Figure 2 shows the timing of the increases where the faculty would pay them 4.5 years of increases in 4 years (a raise every year), and ours would pay 4.5 years in 4.5 years (an initial raise March 2018, then 18 months to the next one, followed by raises every 6 months). You will also see a direct comparison of what was offered to faculty and what was offered to support staff.
Although, we bargain separately, we are somewhat tied with faculty because we have the same employer. It is no coincidence that we were offered this while faculty are in bargaining and that the timelines that the employer imposed were set before a vote was held for faculty. This offer was made in this fashion so that the Colleges’ could use our proposed extension against the faculty and to weaken support for their bargaining team. The argument that has already been made is that “the support staff have already agreed to this”, you should too. This undermines faculty, we should have realized this, we should have taken control of the agenda to not let this happen, but, we did not.
Sister and Brothers, Collective Bargaining is where the members get their say. It only happens every few years, if we accept this proposed offer, it will have been 8 years between those chances. That’s almost half a career in the Colleges. Vote this down, have your say, it’s your Collective Agreement, it’s your life.