Well, thanks for asking.
The latest news from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency might offer a clue. More than a year ago, having made no progress at the table, we applied for a Public Interest Commission (PIC) to be set up to try to bring the two sides together.
PICs take up a fair bit of time. This one began its deliberations in May 2012, and finished them only this past May—a year later. But a consensus for making their non-binding recommendations for settlement had been reached.
Then the employer representative decided to change his mind.
In the PIC report, issued on July 25, the PIC Chair scolded the employer side:
“It does not assist the process when one party backtracks from earlier agreements,” Lorne Slotnick, a respected mediator and arbitrator, wrote as the three-member panel released its recommendations, including a dissent from Andrew Tremayne, the member representing the CFIA.
It’s already been nineteen months since the last contract expired. The next step would be to get back to the bargaining table, with a weak and divided report, and try to move ahead for the members.
But even that may not be a certainty. Consider what happened to the FB group, our border security members. In that case, the PIC was relatively speedy: it met in December of last year, and issued its report on June 5.
But the next day the government announced, as it had been threatening to do well before the PIC report was issued, that it would seek a forced vote by the FB members on what was pretty much its original offer. Treasury Board flatly refused our request to return to the bargaining table to discuss the contents of the report. Six months went right down the spout.
This was a direct attack on the entire collective bargaining process, so we’ve had to go to court to fight it. The case is being heard today: in the unlikely event that we are unsuccessful, the imposed vote would begin on the 15th of August.
Meanwhile, the Correctional Officers, after a staggering 38 months of negotiations, have signed a tentative agreement with Treasury Board—but its terms are to be kept secret until 5:00pm August 16th, two working days after the FB vote commences. That agreement contains, we are told, “significant improvements to [CX] working conditions despite a difficult political and economic environment.” Could it be that it contains better provisions than what TB is hoping to impose upon our FB group with its forced vote?
Then there’s our Technical Services (TC) group. Their PIC report was released in January. It, too, contained a minority report from the employer side, after a consensus had supposedly been reached earlier. Treasury Board announced that it wasn’t ready to return to the bargaining table. Then, at long last, they agreed to meet—this week.
Finally, check out what’s happening with our sister union, the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO). After no movement from the employer for many months, PAFSO suggested binding arbitration.
OK, said Tony Clement, President of Treasury Board—but we have six preconditions.
PAFSO accepted two of the six, but the others included a provision that the union would not be allowed to put its key issue before the arbitrator, wage parity with those doing similar work on the public service.
The president of PAFSO, Tim Edwards, rightly pointed out: “It’s like being invited to a poker game, and your host says, ‘Oh, but I get to start with three aces in my hand.’”
So PAFSO balked, and then Clement rejected binding arbitration.
Still wondering why it’s taking so long to put a contract in your hands?
Now: there’s another point to make, and it’s going to sound like preaching, but here goes.
Collective bargaining isn’t based upon who has the better arguments at the negotiation table. Nor does its outcome have anything to do with whose negotiator has more impressive rhetorical abilities. To be blunt, it’s about power. Without the demonstrated support of the membership, a bargaining team has little or no power, and neither does a negotiator, no matter how skilled.
So when I hear folks complaining that “the union” hasn’t delivered them a good contract, I get more than a little frustrated. The union is, first and foremost, our members. Organized demonstrations of solidarity from the grassroots transfer power to the team, and that, in turn, has its positive effects at the table.
You pay your dues for a host of services and a pile of expertise, but you can’t buy a decent contract with them—that takes a show of collective strength. Want a reasonable, timely collective agreement? Then get involved! Because if the other side doesn’t hear from you, they’ll be that much less interested in hearing from your representatives at the table.
As you’ve just been seeing for yourself.
That’s a tough truth, but, given what we’re up against with the Harper government’s flat-out assault on the collective bargaining process and indeed on unions themselves, it needs to be bluntly stated. Go have a chat with your Local steward, or a member of your Local Executive, and find out how you can help and what you can do. Or call your Component or your PSAC regional office. Because the big contracts are coming due next year, just before the 2015 federal election—and believe me, a hard rain’s going to fall.