BARGAINING & JOB ACTION FAQ
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
PTSU Local 60551 has been bargaining with our employer, the University of New Brunswick, since March 2014. Due to lack of progress, we requested to move into conciliation in July 14th, 2017 and have been at this stage ever since.
The following are frequently asked questions about the bargaining and conciliation process. Use the anchor links below to navigate to specific sections.
What is a Collective Agreement? What is Collective Bargaining?
A “collective agreement” means an agreement in writing between an employer or an employers’ organization and a trade union or a council of trade unions that represents employees of the employer. It contains provisions respecting terms or conditions of employment or the rights, privileges or duties of the employer, the employers’ organization, the trade union, the council of trade unions or the employees.
“Collective bargaining” means negotiating in good faith with a view to the conclusion of a collective agreement or the renewal or revision thereof. Employers and the representatives of the employee’s union exchange proposals back and forth to reach an agreement, sometimes with help from a conciliator, mediator, or arbitrator. (NB Industrial Relations Act, Chapter I-4, Definitions)
Who came up with our proposals?
PTSU conducted a bargaining survey of membership in summer of 2013 to come up with our priorities for bargaining. This data in addition to collective agreements from comparable unions in our sector, agreements of other workers on our campus, and additional feedback from members sought during bargaining, are all used to shape our proposals and discussions at the table.
Our bargaining team is made up of PTSU members who were elected at our AGMs.
Either party in bargaining can apply for the Minister of Post-Secondary Education, Training, and Labour to appoint a Conciliation Officer, usually when there is an impasse in negotiations. Most often it is the union that applies, but not always.
The Conciliation Officer’s job is to listen to both sides at the table and assist them in coming to an agreement.
How do we get out conciliation? When does it end?
Ideally, conciliation and bargaining will end when both sides come to an agreement at the table.
If the Conciliation Officer is unable to bring the parties to a settlement, either party can ask the conciliation officer to report back to the Minister of Post- Secondary, Education, Training and Labour declaring an impasse or deadlock.
When the Minister communicates that there will be no appointment of a conciliation board, the clock starts ticking towards a potential lockout or strike. There is a provincially mandated “cooling off” period of 7 days (plus 2 postal days) during which neither the union nor the employer can take job action.
After that period, if we’ve taken a successful strike vote, the union will be in a legal position to strike. The Employer is also legally allowed to lock out employees.
What is impasse/deadlock?
Impasse means we are no longer able to agree at the table. If an impasse is declared, there are different options available to us to resolve it: mediation, job action, and binding arbitration for first-time collective agreements.
What is first contract arbitration?
Because this is our first collective agreement, in NB we are eligible for first contract arbitration. This process involves both sides presenting their proposals to an arbitrator appointed by the province who then imposes an agreement on both parties. Members would not get to vote on ratifying the agreement if we have it imposed by an arbitrator through this process.
What is job action?
Job action can take the form of a strike or a lock out.
Strikes involve all members of the union refusing to work and can legally take place if:
conciliation has failed, a deadlock has been declared, and the Minister has decided not to appoint a conciliation board
the provincially mandated cooling off period (7 days + 2 postal days) has elapsed
the majority of employees in our bargaining unit have voted to go on strike in a legal strike vote
Lock-outs are when an employer decides to prevent employees from completing their work and entering the work place. Employers are eligible to lock-out employees after impasse has been declared and the provincially mandated seven-day cooling off period has elapsed.
(“lock-out” includes the closing of a place of employment, a suspension of work, a substantial alteration in the normal pattern of operation in a place of employment, or a refusal by an employer to continue to employ a number of his employees, done with a view to compel or induce his employees, or to aid another employer to compel or induce his employees, to refrain from exercising any rights or privileges under this Act or to agree to provisions or changes in provisions respecting terms or conditions of employment or the rights, privileges or duties of the employer, the employers’ organization, the trade union, the council of trade unions or the employees; (NB Industrial Relations Act, Chapter I-4, Definitions)
What is a strike vote?
The union calls a strike vote when the collective bargaining process reaches a point at which the employer is unwilling to meet the demands of the membership. In New Brunswick, a strike vote can only take place 9 days after the Minister has decided not to appoint a conciliation board. A successful strike vote authorizes the union’s executive committee to call a strike if further negotiations do not produce an agreement acceptable to our members.
What this means is that your elected bargaining committee will take this mandate back to the bargaining table and ask the employer for a better offer. If the employer refuses to budge it is at that point that job action, including but not necessarily limited to a strike, could begin.
Is a strike inevitable?
No. While a majority strike vote will authorize the union executive to call for a strike if the bargaining process breaks down, it does not necessarily mean that a strike is inevitable. In fact, the stronger the strike vote, the less likely it is that we will have to strike, because it signals to the employer that we are united in our resolve to obtain the best possible contract.
While a strike vote may sound alarming, it is not at all unusual. Many unions take strike votes during bargaining. The vast majority of all contract negotiations are resolved without recourse to a strike. However, most unions find a strike vote necessary to convince employers to offer a fair deal
What does a “YES” vote mean?
A “yes” vote gives our bargaining team strong support to negotiate for a better contract. It shows the employer that we are prepared, if necessary, to defend our bargaining proposals. In most cases a strike vote is enough to make the employer move significantly, and a “yes” vote is all we need to attain a fair contract.
What does it mean if I vote “no” or if I don’t vote at all in the strike vote?
In New Brunswick, choosing not to vote in a strike vote is treated as a “NO” vote. A “NO” vote means you are voting against supporting job action by your union to secure our collective agreement.
If we have to take a strike vote and receive a poor result (a low percentage yes vote that’s close to 51% would count as a poor result), then we lose our bargaining power at the table and are in the position of “begging” rather than bargaining. We are more likely to have to take whatever the Employer offers.
A “no” vote means that we are far more likely to end up with a weak contract. Therefore, it is very important that as many members as possible come out to vote in a potential strike vote; and it is very important that they vote “yes.”
What percentage vote do we need for a strike mandate?
Technically speaking, 50% plus one. But such a low mandate, or a “no” vote, shows the employer that union members are not willing to take collective action in order secure their demands and a better contract. Voting “no” considerably reduces the leverage of the Union’s Bargaining Committee at the table and damages our chance of negotiating a good contract.
Can retired members vote to strike?
No. Once retired, no longer a member. Retroactive pay will hopefully still be negotiated on your behalf.
Will members know what’s in our collective agreement before a strike vote?
Yes. You will need to know what you are voting to set a strike mandate.
What is the difference between a strike and a lock-out?
A strike is job action we choose; we decide to not work. A lock-out is the employer’s taking job action and preventing us from working—locking us out— which can include physical locks, but also account access like email and eServices.
Both are a show of power by each side. When employees strike, they are then usually locked-out by the employer anyway.
Because lock-outs now usually include email accounts, the PTSU members need to provide PTSU leadership with non-UNB email addresses to ensure communication with members.
Do the union’s executive and bargaining teams like strikes?
NO. Strikes are a last resort. But a strike vote is often necessary in order to get progress at the negotiating table. We have been in bargaining for a very long time at this point and a strike mandate may be necessary to show the employer we are committed to getting a strong collective agreement for our members.
Our bargaining team and your elected executive council and stewards work as hard as they can to avoid going down the strike road. But, if the administration refuses to budge, they will leave us no choice.
What’s the process for starting a strike?
A strike mandate from the membership is required. The local must provide the employer with 24 hours notice of job action. A strike must also be approved by the PSAC National President.
A strike vote and strike mandate does not yet mean a strike has started, but that we are empowered to take those steps if necessary.
Who decides to strike?
The negotiating team with consultation of local leadership would recommend a vote; a vote would be conducted, and the members will decide whether to strike. It can only happen with the PSAC National President’s approval, but this is typically granted when the membership has given a strike mandate.
Once a strike mandate is in place, a strike deadline will be decided on by the executive and bargaining team and communicated to the members in advance. It will also be communicated to the Employer and they will draw up strike protocol that outlines various details of the strike including what benefits or privileges remain in effect while on strike, access to the workplace, and plans for managing any work deemed essential to the safety and security of the institution.
What happens to staff who are also students?
A strike protocol is negotiated between PTSU and UNB, which will define the parameters of the job action. It is anticipated that the student-to-UNB relationship would remain unaltered. The same is anticipated for employees with multiple labour identities (e.g. PTSU and AUNBT member).
Would we receive strike pay?
The PSAC will pay $75 per day which is non-taxable. This is paid during a lock- out, too. A member must picket or engage in strike-related work for 4-hours each work-day to qualify for strike pay.
What about taking job action prior to a strike, like work-to-rule?
We cannot legally take job action prior to a strike mandate, including work-to- rule. We are allowed to mobilize.
Job action = activity that impedes work
Mobilization = any activities that do not impede our work (for example, lunchtime update sessions)
What happens if our contract expires during the strike?
Those members/employees will be treated by PSAC as if they are continuing term employees. This will also be addressed in the strike protocol, and the back- to-work protocol that defines operations for our return to work.
What about benefits during strike?
Typically, universities do not suspend fringe benefits. If this happens to be the case, and a member requires benefits coverage during job action, PSAC will arrange for this.
What about taking an employee laptop or similar employer- provided items home?
That is theoretically a theft, but will be addressed during strike protocol (e.g. because some members only have a telephone provided by UNB—what would they do?)