CUPE 3906 Postdoctoral Fellows Bargaining Blog

Frequently Asked Questions

What is collective bargaining?

Collective bargaining is a process that equalizes the power relationship between employees and their employer. With collective bargaining, the Post-Doctoral Fellow and CUPE 3906 representatives we’ve chosen have survey us to determine priorities and begun to negotiate a contract with the McMaster University administration. We can negotiate for improvements in wages, hours, benefits, and terms and conditions of employment. We will have an opportunity to democratically vote on the agreement that the administration and our bargaining team reach, before it becomes a binding contract that ensures and protects minimum standards and protections.

A contract is enforced by a grievance procedure, ending with binding arbitration before a neutral third party, rather than a representative paid by the McMaster administration, as is currently the case. Without a contract, the administration has the unilateral ability to decide and change our wages, benefits, and working conditions. A collective agreement, on the other hand, has to be bargained and cannot be unilaterally altered.

Bargaining Agent

The certified trade union, CUPE 3906, that has been granted rights to act on behalf of a bargaining unit and to be the exclusive agent for those employees. The employer is obligated to negotiate with the bargaining agent.

How has collective bargaining benefited Postdocs elsewhere?

A recent article in Science’s Next Wave outlines many of the improvements won by unionized Postdocs at the University of Connecticut Healthcare Center (UCHC) though collective bargaining. In the first contract, Postdocs won significant wage increases (as much as $10,000 in some cases), annual cost of living adjustments, improved evaluation procedures and advances in other aspects of their rights and working conditions. Although, at the time Postdocs were unionizing at UCHC, some claimed that higher pay for Postdocs would mean fewer positions or that Union representation might negatively impact Postdoc relationships with their PIs, these concerns have not materialized. Some also feared that the multiple and varied nature of Postdoc funding sources would make it difficult to bargain wages without negatively affecting grants. However, unionized Postdocs at UCHC say they have not seen any negative impact on grants from collective bargaining (Benderly, Science’s Next Wave, 3 March 2006).

That is why a majority of postdocs have unionized at the University of California and the University of Western Ontario, alongside those at McMaster.

Why are we part of the CUPE? Are unions needed at a university?

McMaster administrators determine many of our employment issues beyond the control of our funding sources, PIs, and research groups. Almost all other McMaster employees (including the administration) have already unionized or formed associations and engage in collective bargaining with the administration. Our PIs have their own collective bargaining agent – the McMaster University Faculty Association. By joining CUPE, finally Post-Doctoral Fellows can exercise our legal rights to bargain with the administration. Time and again, results show that having a union behind you increases your benefits, salary and security, especially in a large university setting.
CUPE represents the majority of academic workers at McMaster (about 3000 academic workers) and is the largest National union representing university workers across the province of Ontario and across the country. In addition, CUPE 3906 is currently seeking affiliation with the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) which is the country’s largest professional organization representing academics. Once a collective agreement is in place, Post-Doctoral Fellows will have the opportunity to affiliate with CAUT.

At what point do we start paying dues and for what are they used?

No one in CUPE pays dues until they have had an opportunity to vote on and approve a first contract. Soon after McMaster’s unionized Post-Doctoral Fellows ratify a new contract, they will start paying dues to CUPE 3906. Because unions are not-for-profit organizations, the amount of dues charged is related to the costs of providing services to the members. Every time a new unit joins, the Executive Committee looks at the salary base of the employees and operating expenses of the unit and recommends a new dues rate to the bargaining unit. Post-Doctoral Fellows will vote on a dues rate at a special meeting.

Dues support a variety of resources that equalize power with the employer and enable us to represent our members. These include educational, legal, organizing, negotiating and other representational services.

How successful has bargaining been thus far? What will happen next?

To date, the Employer and the Union have met approximately 20 times. Although good progress has been made in many areas, several important issues remain unresolved. Additional meetings have been scheduled for May 2009. If the parties remain very far apart on key issues, either side may request the assistance of a government-appointed conciliation officer.

What is conciliation?

Under the Labour Relations Act, 1995, either the Employer or the Union may, at any time during negotiations, apply to the Ministry of Labour to request the appointment of a conciliation officer to assist the parties in reaching an agreement. This is a normal aspect of the bargaining process, and is required prior to the Union commencing a strike or the Employer commencing a lock-out.

What’s a “no board” report?

If the Employer and the Union are still unable to reach an agreement through conciliation, either party may ask the conciliation officer to issue a “no-board” report. No strike/lock out may take place until after a conciliation officer has been appointed and 16 days have elapsed after the no-board report is issued.
Negotiations may continue after a “no board” is issued, either directly or with the assistance of a mediator.

What is mediation?

The use of an independent, impartial, and respected third party (usually the same person who acted as the conciliation officer) in the latter stage of bargaining, instead of or prior to opting for arbitration or a strike or lockout. Unlike an arbitrator, a mediator has no legal power to force acceptance of his or her decision but relies on persuasion to reach an agreement.

What is a strike vote?

Before its members can legally go on strike, the Union must also hold a strike vote. The Union will ask its members to give its bargaining team a strong bargaining position by voting in favour of a strike. If more than 50% of the votes cast are in favour of a strike, the Union may legally commence strike action on the 17th day after the issuance of the no-board report.

It should be noted that only those votes that are cast at the strike vote are counted. For example, if only 100 members vote, and 51 members vote in favour of a strike, all 130 members of the bargaining unit may legally go on strike without holding another vote. In light of the above, the Union encourages all members of the bargaining unit to participate in the strike vote.

Is the union’s bargaining team trying to avert a strike?

The Union’s Bargaining Team is very hopeful that a fair contract can be reached without the Union taking strike action or the Employer locking us out. The Union will do absolutely everything in its power to gain a fair contract without a strike. This may include making use of the option of requesting that this first contract be finalized through the use of mediation and even binding arbitration, in the event that the Employer ceases to make movement in the coming weeks.

What is arbitration?

Final offer interest arbitration: Dispute resolution method in which the remaining issues are submitted to an independent arbitrator, who must either choose among the final positions of the parties to the dispute, or propose an intermediate position after receiving submissions from both parties.

Once an agreement is reached, what will happen next?

Each party will seek approval by members/principals of the proposed memorandum of settlement and tentative collective agreement. The Union will hold a ratification vote, in which all employees covered by the collective agreement will be able to vote.

What actions may the Employer take with respect to communicating with PDFs about bargaining?

The Employer can state that the University remains committed to negotiating in good faith to reach a collective agreement that is acceptable to both parties.

The Employer can tell bargaining unit members that the decision to strike is entirely a personal decision, and that they are free to participate in a strike if they so choose.

The Employer can inform bargaining unit members that the University is planning for and making preparations for a strike.

The Employer may, in good faith, provide their response to statements made by the Union or its members with only factual information.

The Employer must continue to enforce the University’s policies impartially and irrespective of the employee’s membership or activity in a Union.

The Employer must not:

* ask employees about their Union activities or their views about a strike.
* use any intimidating language which may be designed to influence employees in the exercise of their right to engage in a legal strike, or their right to participate
* participate in Union activities
* threaten loss of jobs, reduction of income, discontinuance of any privileges or benefits presently enjoyed.
* threaten or actually discharge or discipline striking bargaining unit employees because of their activities during the strike and/or outside working hours on behalf of the Union.
* discriminate against employees actively supporting the Union by intentionally assigning them undesirable work.
* take any action that is intended to impair the status of, or adversely affect a bargaining unit member’s job because of his/her activity on behalf of the Union.
* promise employees a pay increase, promotion, benefit or special favour in exchange for not participating in Union activity, including a strike.
* ask employees about internal affairs of the Union such as strike strategy or meetings
* attend Union meetings or watch meeting room entrances to identify or record employees attending.
* state that management will not negotiate with the Union or that a strike is inevitable.
* take part in a petition or circular against the union or encourage its circulation.

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