Toronto Collective Bargaining Lawyer

Collective Bargaining

What is collective bargaining?

Collective bargaining is a process of negotiation between employers and a group of employees (usually represented by a union or an association), with a view to getting an agreement which regulates employee pay, benefits, working conditions and many other aspects covering the rights of workers, the union and the employer. In more detail, negotiated collective agreements cover things like wage scales, working hours, training, overtime, grievance process and mechanisms, occupational health and safety, seniority rights, layoff and recall rights, and the like.

Generally, collective bargaining occurs only in unionized workplaces. If there is no union, employees negotiate the terms of their employment with the company, on an individual basis.

Collective agreements are relatively complex, and a poorly drafted collective agreement can significantly increase the cost of doing business.

At collective agreement negotiations, the focus of the union is to water down management rights and increase the rights and benefits of employees. On the other side, the company management must focus upon the specific economic realities facing their businesses and do their best to maintain their costs in an increasingly competitive economic environment- no easy task.

Are all collective agreements negotiated?

No. Where a company is newly certified by a trade union, and the parties have not been able to enter into a first collective agreement, sometimes the union may seek "first contract arbitration" by applying to the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB). The right to first contract arbitration changes from time to time, often dependent upon legislative mandate (the initiatives of pro-union versus pro-employee governments). Generally speaking, first contract arbitration is available if one party to the negotiations is not bargaining in good faith. The Labour Relations Act of Ontario requires both unions and employers to bargain in good faith, when they meet to negotiate a collective agreement.

Additionally, in the construction industry, companies engaged in industrial, commercial or institutional sectors (covering industrial and commercial buildings, schools, hospitals and the like), often find themselves immediately subject to existing provincial ICI agreements, which they have no right or entitlement to negotiate. This is particularly difficult for small and medium sized businesses.

Companies can also find themselves bound by other collective agreements they had no involvement whatsoever in negotiating, simply on account of what are known as "crossover clauses." For more on this topic, see our section on Construction Labour Law.

How often are collective agreements negotiated?

The majority of collective agreements have three-year terms. However, collective agreements can range in duration, subject to legislative requirements under the Labour Relations Act.

How do you begin collective bargaining?

Usually collective bargaining will begin after the union serves upon the company, a Notice to Bargain. This will usually occur 3 to 6 months prior to the expiry of an existing collective agreement. In the case of a new union certification, the Notice to Bargain will be delivered by the union usually within the first 30 days after the OLRB's Certification Decision, unless otherwise agreed to by the parties.  

Why is strong collective bargaining important?

Collective bargaining is the one area of Labour Law where it truly pays to "get it right the first time'. Mistakes in collective bargaining can be very expensive not only over the term of the collective agreement, but for successive terms. Remember, once a term or benefit has been agreed to by the company, it is very hard if not almost impossible to subsequently negotiate it out of the collective agreement.  

What can Hyde HR Law do for my company?

We are certified by the Law Society as Specialists in Labour Law. We have been representing clients in collective bargaining for over a quarter century. We have built our reputation upon our success and, a proven ability to get the very best for our clients.

Recently, we negotiated a renewal collective agreement for a large manufacturing company with plants in Canada, the US and the United Kingdom. We secured a three-year term with wage increases limited to the cost of living. More importantly, we achieved the goal of creating long-term benefits for the company, helping it to maintain its competitiveness in the Province of Ontario. The Company's previous collective agreements included short-term disability language that granted employees the right to use the plan as paid sick leave, without limitation. Employees were abusing this plan, using it for the flu, common colds and even Monday morning hangovers. We negotiated new language which brought this to an end. We also got rid of a very expensive defined benefit pension plan, so it would not apply to future employees. The cost savings to our client (both current and future), were enormous. See what we can do for your company by contacting us today.