How does TUFA bargaining work?

Step 1: Consultation

The bargaining objectives and strategy that any union pursues are ultimately an expression of the goals and interests its members. Beyond issues of salary, benefits, and workload, collective agreements in the post-secondary education sector typically provide a detailed framework for career progression in the context of collegial governance and the range of duties and responsibilities performed by academic staff. A collective agreement is adjusted and improved through periodic negotiations which, at Trent, generally occur in a three-year cycle.

In preparing for bargaining, TUFA’s Executive Committee convenes a Negotiations Council prior to bargaining. This Council serves as one conduit for information from TUFA members to the Executive and Bargaining Team. It also acts as a sounding board to test possible proposals and strategies for negotiations with the Employer. The structure of the Negotiations Council has been kept loose to allow for the widest possible range of perspectives to be expressed from within the membership. Generally, we aim to have at least one member from every department and professional school participating, as well as a representative cross-section of the union’s membership by gender, appointment type, and rank.

The Executive also provides opportunities for members to meet with the Chief Negotiator and other members of the bargaining team to discuss important issues in smaller groups. In the past, such consultations have taken place with members holding Limited Term Appointments, our Women’s Caucus, members from specific Decanal divisions/schools, and with TUFA’s librarian members.

In previous bargaining rounds, the Executive has surveyed the bargaining unit (sometimes using wide-ranging survey instruments; sometimes with focused email polls) to assess the value that the membership as a whole places on specific issues or objectives.

Step 2: Preparing a Mandate

The Executive reviews the information and perspectives received from all these sources and drafts a bargaining mandate that is also sensitive to the broader context of the Association’s relationship with the Employer (including recent grievances and issues left unresolved at Joint Committee), sector-wide trends, and Trent’s overall situation (including student enrollment, staff demographics, and finances). This draft mandate is presented for discussion, modification, and approval by the membership at a General Membership meeting, often convened specifically for this purpose. Once approved, the mandate guides the Executive Committee and Bargaining Team through the negotiation process. A good mandate reflects the needs of members, is accountable, and fairly balances individual and collective interests. It also serves as a roadmap for the Bargaining Team as it develops the Union’s initial proposal for presentation to the Employer. The initial proposal contains the specific changes to the collective agreement that would be required to implement the mandate as approved by TUFA’s membership.

The exchange of initial proposals between the Employer and Union can be handled in different
ways, but it has been the practice at Trent to exchange a complete package of all proposals at the outset of negotiations. In the event that the Employer tables proposals that are not addressed by TUFA’s original mandate, it has been our practice to hold a special GMM to develop a response mandate.

Step 3: Bargaining

According to TUFA’s Constitution, the Bargaining Team (including the Chief Negotiator) is appointed by the Executive Committee. The Executive is thus ultimately responsible for the conduct of bargaining and related work with the membership. This frees the Bargaining Team to engage fully in the technical work of negotiations in consultation with the Executive, the professional staff of our affiliates (OCUFA and CAUT), and legal counsel. The Bargaining Team can call on both the Executive Committee for direction and the Negotiations Council for advice.

The Executive is expected to present its appointees to the Bargaining Team, at least 90 days prior to the expiry of the collective agreement. During bargaining, the Chief Negotiator becomes the primary conduit through which the Union communicates with the Employer. At the bargaining table, the Union can resolve outstanding grievances and other disputes, can address policy concerns, and can require the University to provide financial, personnel, and other information
applicable to negotiations.

It is a principle of collective bargaining that neither side can dictate who the other brings to the table. In recent rounds, TUFA’s team has comprised the Chief Negotiator, two or three members, and our Executive Director. The Employer’s team is generally headed by the Associate Vice President for Human Resources reporting to the Vice President, Finance & Administration and includes a Dean, and a senior staffer from Human Resources, with other personnel drawn in as warranted. Proposals are brought to the table, presented and interrogated before counter-proposals are offered. In this back-and-forth fashion the parties converge on mutually acceptable language.

Step 4: Reaching a Deal

Through the process of proposal, counter-proposal, and negotiation, TUFA and the employer will work towards a final agreement. However, if TUFA is unable to make progress on important issues, the normal bargaining process provides ways for us to escalate matters and put constructive pressure on the Employer. We can, for example, hold a strike vote. A successful strike vote does not mean there will be a strike. Rather, a strong strike mandate from the membership tells the Employer that we are committed to our proposals, and ready to respond if pushed. We can also request conciliation or mediation, where third parties can assist the Union and Employer reach an agreement. Conciliation is formal process accessed through Ontario’s Ministry of Labour which appoints a conciliator. If the conciliation process ends without an agreement, the parties can continue to work with a third party in mediation.

Mediation is discretionary, and so both TUFA and the Employer must agree to it before it can proceed. If conciliation has not brought about an agreement, either TUFA or the employer can request a No Board Report from the Ministry of Labour. Once a No Board Report is granted, the Union and the Employer have 17 days before they will be in legal strike or lockout position. This does not mean that a strike or lockout will happen, only that it is legal to do so.

A strike is the last resort in the bargaining process. It is a rare part of negotiations, but the possibility of strong measures, like strikes, helps ensure that issues in dispute will be resolved. Heading into negotiations, we should always be mindful that job actions or work stoppages are possible outcomes of bargaining.

2022 Bargaining Team

  • Susan Wurtele (Chief Negotiator)
  • Michael Epp
  • Maggie Xenopoulos
  • Byron Stoyles
  • Stephanie Rutherford
  • Marcus Harvey (Staff Support)