Published by OCUFA in Ontario University Report
Many university employers are refusing to table financial offers in their bargaining with faculty. Some claim that the government’s wage restraint policy rules out the possibility of a compensation increase or that funding will be clawed back if compensation exceeds net zero for two years.
There are reports of employers potentially backing away from financial offers exceeding zero tabled earlier in this round of bargaining. The Ontario Labour Relations Act requires the parties to “bargain in good faith and make every reasonable effort to make a collective agreement.” One of the tasks of the Ontario Labour Relations Board is to distinguish between “hard bargaining” ─ vigorously holding to and defending a position, for example ─ and bad faith bargaining, which violates this legal requirement.
In the spring, the board was asked to determine whether an employer could withdraw a wage offer made before the release of the March Ontario Budget and then table a new offer of no-net-compensation increases, in line with the government’s wage policy. In this case, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union v. the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation, the board concluded that bad faith bargaining had not occurred. The board’s decision was based on the following assessment: the employer had not said its offer was final; it had not said it was not prepared to bargain compensation increases; and it had not broken off negotiations.
Here is what the board said about its expectations: “…we would expect the parties to return to the bargaining table forthwith, and nothing in this decision should be construed as permitting [the employer] to refuse to negotiate about increases in compensation during the first two years of any new collective agreement.”
It is not known how long university administrators can refuse to talk about compensation, but the board does expect them to negotiate over compensation increases. Refusing to table an offer, or refusing to move off zero, is a dangerous bargaining position for an employer: it could result in a strike, a negative labour board ruling, or both.