Bargaining, Strike and Lockout FAQ’s

Bargaining, Strike and Lockout FAQ’s for Academic Assistants | 2010-01
Be sure to check this page frequently as we will update these details as bargaining progresses.


Frequently Asked Questions:

Are negotiations beginning soon?
Yes. Both your Union and the Employer will begin bargaining on Thursday, June 2, 2016.

How can I help the Bargaining Committee directly?
Help your Bargaining Committee by sharing information with your fellow members, helping to organize events, and by distributing materials. No huge time commitments required! If you are willing to help out in any way, please email contact@usw2010.ca.

Who do I speak to if I have more questions?
Please contact us at contact@usw2010.ca.

What is a lockout?
A lockout occurs when the employer denies access to the workplace in order to exert pressure on the Union and its members to settle on the Employer’s terms. Employers can legally lock out employees only after conciliation, and then only seventeen days after a no-board report. Lockouts rarely occur in the university sector.

What is the definition of a strike?
Legal strike action is the right of unionized workers to withdraw services collectively with the aim of demonstrating their collective concerns and resolve to achieve fair terms of employment. A partial refusal of usual duties is considered a strike if it is collectively coordinated. If a union has not had a successful strike mandate vote, or if the no-board report and the waiting period have not been observed, striking is illegal, and a union calling a strike without these conditions is subject to penalties.

Who decides if we will go on strike?
The Members are the ones who decide whether or not they will go on strike. The Members will decide if they want to accept or reject the Employer’s final offer based on the recommendation of the Bargaining Committee.  They will first review the document, and then a secret ballot vote will be held. If Members choose to accept the offer, then this will become the new collective agreement and no further action is necessary.  If Members choose to reject the offer, then they will be on strike. A strike could take many forms, and does not necessarily have to consist of a traditional walkout.

Will the Executive Board/Bargaining Committee continue to be paid during a strike or lockout?
No, the Unit Chair, President, Vice-President, or any other Board or Committee member will be paid their regular salary during a strike.  They will be receive strike pay, if eligible.

What is conciliation?
Conciliation is the process in which a Conciliation Officer, appointed by the Ontario Ministry of Labour at the request of either the union or the employer (or both) acts as an intermediary to facilitate communication and settlement. Conciliation is non-binding, but provincial law requires at least one meeting with a conciliator before lockout or strike can occur. The role of the conciliator is to confer with the parties and endeavour to reach a collective agreement, but she/he has no authority to impose a settlement. The conciliator does not make judgments on the merits and positions of either side; she/he may make suggestions to either or both sides, but these suggestions are not binding and the parties are free to accept or ignore them.  If conciliation leads to agreement on a proposed new contract, it will be submitted to the membership for ratification.

If the differences appear too great for conciliation, either your Union or the Employer may ask the Ministry to issue a “no-board report”. This is a report terminating the conciliation process without the appointment of a conciliation board. (A conciliation board is three person panel appointed by the Ministry, a technical possibility under Ontario labour law but it is almost never used since it does not materially change the situation dealt with by the conciliator.) The conciliator, employer, or the union may demand that this report be issued at any time following the first meeting of the parties with the conciliator. Effectively, a no-board report indicates a failure to resolve differences between the two parties.  Following the issuance of a no-board report, there is a 17 day period during which bargaining can continue. On the seventeenth day, lockout or strike is legally possible. Note that a strike, including collective job action (described below), is not legally possible at the end of the 17 day period if a successful strike vote has not been held. A no-board report does not mean lockout or strike will occur; the decision to lockout or strike can be kept in abeyance by the parties until any point in time.

What is a no-board report?
If conciliation fails, the conciliator requests what is called a no-board report. At any point after the initial meeting with the conciliator, either of the parties may also unilaterally request a no-board report. If the conciliator feels he or she cannot effect an agreement or if either side calls for a no-board, the Ministry of Labour will issue a letter stating that a conciliation board will not be appointed (the no-board report). Effectively, a no-board report indicates a failure to resolve differences between the two parties. After a no-board report is issued, the parties must observe a sixteen-day period during which terms of employment are frozen but bargaining may continue. On the seventeenth day, lockout or strike is legally possible. A no-board report does not mean lockout or strike will occur; the decision to lockout or strike can be kept in abeyance until any point in time.

What is a concilition board?
A conciliation board is a committee with three members, one from each party to the negotiations and one neutral, that is appointed by the Ministry to extend the conciliation process.  The conciliation board is a technical possibility under Ontario labour law but is almost never used since it does not materially change the situation dealt with by the conciliator.

What happens to our collective agreement during conciliation?
Our negotiated collective agreement for Academic Assistants will expire on August 31, 2016. We will work diligently to reach a new agreement before expiration. Once negotiations begin and subsequently continue, there will be a statutory freeze on existing terms and conditions. In effect, this means that our terms of employment remain the same. If, however, there is a no-board report, seventeen days following that report, the employer is able to impose unilateral changes to our terms and conditions of employment.

Why do unions strike – why do union members choose to strike?
A strike is not an end in itself, but rather a means to obtaining a fair and equitable collective agreement. Legal strike action does not happen overnight and it is not a decision to be taken lightly. The decision to strike is actually made by the members of the Union by voting to give the Bargaining Committee a strike mandate.  It is USW practice to always return to the membership for a second vote after a positive strike mandate if the Bargaining Committee feels that a full withdrawal of labour is necessary.  It is critical for the Union to be prepared to strike if absolutely necessary and the mere demonstration of preparedness is an important lever for securing fair and equitable treatment.

What is the difference between a strike mandate vote (vote 1) and a strike vote (vote 2)?
A strike mandate vote and a strike vote are two separate and distinct processes. A strike mandate vote is a tool used by the Bargaining Committee to secure a fair agreement with the Employer by reminding them of the strength of the Membership and their unwillingness to accept an unfair deal. In a strike mandate vote, the membership votes to give the Bargaining Committee the legal power to call a strike if the Employer is not negotiating with them fairly. This is a secret ballot vote. After the Bargaining Committee has a successful strike mandate, they are on more equal terms with the Employer. The strike vote (or ratification vote) will take place after the membership receives the final offer from the Employer. The Members will decide if they want to accept or reject the Employer’s final offer based on the recommendation of the Bargaining Committee. They will first review the document, and then a secret ballot vote will be held. If Members choose to accept the offer, then this will become the new collective agreement and no further action is necessary. If Members choose to reject the offer, then job action (e.g. a traditional walkout) will be necessary.

What is job action?
Job action can take many forms in addition to the traditional strike: a work-to-rule effort; a department by department rotating slowdown; study sessions of staff during work time; any organized work slowdown designed to restrict output; or other tactics. Job action is any concerted activity designed to give us support and strength in bargaining. In order to be smart, responsible and focused, we need to be in the legal position to be able to engage in such activities. And, in order to be in that legal position, you the members must have voted in favour of it through a strike vote.  Having said this however, the Bargaining Committee would come back to the membership for a 2nd strike vote to actually call a walkout, if that step is ever necessary.