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Collective Bargaining Process Successful Again: City of Toronto, CUPE Reach Deal

Check out my Anatomy of a Work Stoppage? discussion here, which followed developments in the CUPE 416 and City of Toronto bargaining as it developed.

February 5: Parties Announce Tentative Agreement

Congratulations to CUPE 416 and the City of Toronto for bargaining a new collective agreement.

At the last moment, the parties have apparently reached a tentative deal–it still needs to be ratified by the workers.  No details are out yet, but here is a Toronto Star piece describing some of the early details.

[Note how the headline is skewed (inaccurately) against the workers--it says "Strike Averted", when in fact the union had no plans to strike, had not even taken the required strike vote.  The union had been told by the Employer that if no deal was reached, the Employer would unilaterally gut the collective agreement.  A "strike" wasn't averted.  A lockout or unilateral reformation of the employment relationship by the Employer was averted.  Language matters in shaping public opinion, so pay attention to media spin.]

The collective bargaining system worked as designed, with both sides pressuring each other and ultimately feeling that a deal was better than no deal.  That is how collective bargaining usually leads to a solution that neither side is thrilled with, but that both sides can live with, given the alternatives.  Modern technology and social media amplify every move in the chess game, which can lead people to loose perspective of the bigger picture.  If every move wasn’t broadcast in real time, as it is today, what we would have seen here is a typical bargaining situation that was settled at the last moment.  It happens all the time.  The system worked.

This bargaining was tough and intense, but tough bargaining is common in difficult economic times.   Workers have always struggled to hang onto what they have in times like these, when their bargaining power is particularly low.   From the workers’ perspective, in recessionary times, you take what you can get, but mostly you try to tread water and hope for better times down the road.

If there was anything unusual about this bargaining, historically speaking, it was that the employer took a harder line than have many democratically elected officials in the past, by threatening to unilaterally amend contract terms in its favor if no deal was reached. But the model permits this too, and other employers have done this before.  It’s not like Rob Ford discovered some new law or tactic.  The right to make changes to employment terms has always been there.  But most employers don’t exercise this right for some fairly obvious reasons. One is that it usually makes very little sense for an employer to invite a very angry, pissed off workforce to come to work everyday under terms and conditions they don’t want, and haven’t agreed to.   That’s not a recipe for an efficient workplace.  So very few sensible employers will go down that route.  This employer didn’t care, because it had engaged in positional bargaining where its only measure of success was winning concessions on collective agreement language.

In short, the collective bargaining model here ran its course, and worked as designed, and life goes on.  Now onto the inside workers…




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