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York Strike and the Politics and Spin of Interest Arbitration Offers

A well-written student run blog on the York strike was just brought to my attention.  If you haven’t seen it, its called York Strike 2008.

A particularly interesting part of the blog deals with the question of interest arbitration.  I mentioned early on in this strike that ‘interest arbitration’ is always an option, but only if both parties consent to it.  This is dealt with in Section 40 of the Ontario Labour Relations Act.   In this strike, it is the employer pushing hard for interest arbitration and the union is resisting.   York Strike 2008 blog dug up notes from the 1997 round of bargaining with YUFA.  In that bargaining round, York U. argued strenuously against interest arbitration on a principled basis.  Here’s a key passage of the employer’s argument against interest arbitration then:

Arbitration risks handing over the future of the institution, and the definition of a new contract for faculty, to a third party who cannot possibly appreciate the subtleties and complexities of a university such as York. University administrators and faculty must determine an effective contract and its budgetary implications through collective bargaining. Engaging in arbitration on these issues is tantamount to allowing an outsider who has no continuing interest in, or commitment to, the University to have the authority to decide academic priorities for the institution. The arbitrator, unlike faculty and administration, is not accountable for making his or her decision work. Arbitrators do not have to find the money to meet the costs of their judgements, nor must they live with the impact of their decisions.

This Toronto Star article from 1997 describes an incident in which the faculty union presented the administration with a mock “DBA”, Doctor of Binding Arbitration.  But the employer refused arbitration.

The point is this:  In labour relations, the party that thinks interest arbitration will work for them often pushes for interest arbitration, and then uses the other side’s refusal in its public relations propaganda.  In 1997, it was the union seeking arbitration to end a strike, this time its the employer.


One Response to York Strike and the Politics and Spin of Interest Arbitration Offers

  1. Peter Cameron Reply

    November 14, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    There are intermediate positions between ‘no arbitration’ and ‘binding arbitration with no terms of reference’. For example, the parties could agree to non-binding arbitration, with a mutually binding undertaking to take the outcome to a secret ballot vote of the parties’ principals. More promising in the present situation might be binding arbitration, with agreed terms of reference for the arbitrator (which could include stipulated factors to be considered with respect to employment security, monetary matters etc.), and possibly a named arbitrator. And/or the parties could agree to binding arbitration for all issues except the length of the contract, with alternate two and three year monetary provisions — leaving the sole issue of contract length to test the resolve of the parties to continue the dispute on only that issue. These are just examples. The point is that there are more options here than a binary choice.

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