Labour Relations - General FAQs

  1. What is a collective agreement?
  2. What happens if the union and University are not able to reach an agreement to conclude the terms of a collective agreement?
  3. What if the employer and the union cannot reach agreement in conciliation?
  4. What further assistance is available to the bargaining parties after a "no board" gets issued?
  5. Must there be a strike vote before a strike can take place?
  6. What is a strike?
  7. When is a union in a legal strike position?
  8. Is a union permitted to picket during a strike?
  9. Will the University close if there is a strike?
  10. Can the University request a vote of employees on the employer's final offer?
  11. The Union and University have reached a “Tentative Agreement”.  What does this mean?
  12. What is “Ratification”?  How does this work?

1. What is collective bargaining?

Collective bargaining is a process by which a committee representing the union (made up of employees and union representatives) and a committee representing the University (made up of management representatives and managerial employees) negotiate a collective agreement.  It can be for the negotiation of a first contract where there has not been a collective agreement previously, or, a renewal contract in the case of an existing collective agreement.  In this process, the parties usually focus on such issues as wages, benefits, working conditions.  With 10 certified bargaining units at McMaster, collective bargaining is a normal part of any year.

2.What is a collective agreement?

A collective agreement is a written contract between the University and a union that outlines many of the terms and conditions of employment for employees in a bargaining unit. The terms and conditions are reached through collective bargaining between the University and the union. The kinds of issues that are covered by a collective agreement typically include wages & benefits, as well as terms and conditions of employment that relate to thing like the nature of the work, the process for job postings, obligations and responsibilities of the employer, the employee and the union, and a dispute resolution process (usually a ‘grievance and arbitration procedure’).

3. What happens if the union and University are not able to reach an agreement to conclude the terms of a collective agreement?

In this situation either the union or the University can ask the Ontario Ministry of Labour to appoint a conciliator to serve as a neutral third party to help resolve their differences.  If the parties are in negotiations, the conciliation process is mandatory in the sense that a ministry conciliation officer must be appointed at the request of one of the parties before the union can be in a position to engage in a legal strike , or, the University can be in a legal position to lock-out employees in the bargaining unit.  The parties are not legally allowed to commence a strike or a lock-out until after they have met with a conciliator and the conciliator has issued a “No Board” report.  Historically, the University has not, to-date, ever exercised the “lock-out” option. 

4. What if the employer and the union cannot reach agreement in conciliation?

The conciliation officer informs the Minister of Labour that the union and the University have been unable to agree on a collective agreement to that point in their negotiations and will ask the Minister of Labour to issue a “No Board” report.  17 days after the date of the No-Board Report becomes the “strike deadline” date  - on that date the union is legally allowed to and the University is legally allowed to lock-out employees in the bargaining unit.  Again, the University has historically never exercised the “lock-out” option.

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5. What further assistance is available to the bargaining parties after a "no board" gets issued?

Between the date of the No-Board Report and the strike deadline date the union or the University may request from the Ministry the assistance of a Mediation officer to facilitate further negations leading up to the strike deadline date.  The Mediation officer appointed is usually the same person who provided Conciliation services to the parties.  This helps to make sure that the Mediation officer has continuity with the parties and a good understanding of the issues that remain outstanding.

6. Must there be a strike vote before a strike can take place?

YES.  A strike vote by secret ballot is required before the union can lawfully commence a strike of employees in the bargaining unit.  The strike vote must be taken within 30 days or less before the collective agreement expires or at any time after the collective agreement expires.  In either case, a majority (50% +1) of those voting by secret ballot must vote in favour of strike action in order for the union to be able to call a strike on or after the strike deadline date.

In case of a first collective agreement, the vote must be conducted after the appointment of a conciliation officer.  All employees in a bargaining unit have the right to participate in such a vote.

A strike vote must be by secret ballot and all members of the bargaining unit must have ample opportunity to cast a ballot at a reasonably convenient time and place.

This is a vote that is conducted entirely by the union; it is not supervised by the Ministry of Labour, and it is entirely up to the union as to whether it will release the specific vote results.  For example, CAW usually releases the result as a matter of policy, but CUPE does not.  The outcome of this vote will tell the union whether the employees in the bargaining unit are for or against going on strike. 

The union will have a strike mandate if a majority (50% +1) of those who vote indicate they support a strike.

As a result, all bargaining unit members are always encouraged to participate in the vote.

7. What is a strike?

The Labour Relations Act defines a strike as “a cessation of work, refusal to work or to continue to work, by employees in combination or in concert or in accordance with a common understanding, or slow-down or other concerted activity on the part of employees designed to restrict or limit output.”

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8. When is a union in a legal strike position?

After the parties have met with a Conciliator, if they have not been able to settle all outstanding matters, the Conciliator will report this to the Minister of Labour.  Typically, the Minister then issues a “No-Board Report”.
Provided that the union has held a strike vote AND has received a strike mandate the union is in a position to commence a legal strike at 12:01 a.m. on the 17th day after the date on the No-Board Report.  If it is known that a particular bargaining unit is in a legal strike position, the University will communicate the relevant date.

9. Is a union permitted to picket during a strike?

Yes.  During a strike, the union will often form picket lines at University entrances.  Picketers are legally permitted to carry signs stating the nature of the dispute, speak to people entering the property about their concerns, and ask people entering the property to join the picket line.  However, picketers are not permitted to:
  • Picket on University property;
  • Block access to the University;
  • Use force, threats, or threatening gestures to prevent people from coming onto University property, including students, any employee wanting to attend at work and visitors;
  • Otherwise engage in unlawful behaviour.

10. Will the University close if there is a strike?

No.  The University will make every effort to ensure that operations and classes continue.

11. Can the University request a vote of employees on the employer's final offer?

Yes.  Any time (before or after the commencement of a strike), the University may ask the Minister of Labour to direct a vote of the employees in the affected bargaining unit as to their acceptance or rejection of the University's final offer on all matters remaining in dispute.
Upon the receipt of such a request, the Minister must direct that a vote to accept or reject the University’s offer be conducted.  The vote is supervised and conducted by Ministry of Labour officials and the result of the vote is public.

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12. The Union and University have reached a “Tentative Agreement”.  What does this mean?

The University and the union have agreed to the terms of a collective agreement, but the terms have not yet been agreed to (“ratified”) by the bargaining unit members or the University’s governing body.

13. What is “Ratification”?  How does this work?

Ratification by the union is the process by which members of the bargaining unit vote to accept or reject the terms of the collective agreement that the University and union have negotiated. The ratification vote happens at the end of collective bargaining, after the University and the union have reached a tentative agreement. All members of the bargaining unit have the right to vote. Each person gets one vote. The vote must be conducted by secret ballot.  The collective agreement is considered “ratified” by the bargaining unit if a majority (50% +1) of those voting vote to accept the terms of the tentative collective agreement.

A collective agreement is ratified by the University when the tentative agreement is approved by the Board of Governors.

Once both parties have ratified the tentative collective agreement, it is finalized and implemented.