Collective Agreement terminology A-Z

Arbitration: When the parties have a disagreement on an issue, they can seek an outside decision on their respective positions. The binding “court” of labour relations, arbitration consists of a neutral third party, and may include three “judges” – one appointed by each of the “parties”, and a neutral agreed to by both. Often arbitrations are conducted by a single arbitrator.
Binding arbitration can be used during bargaining if both parties cannot find any common ground to get to a collective agreement. Public sector employers tend to resist this mechanism, as the arbitrator is not bound to follow the PSEC mandate set forth by the BC government.

Article: A specific section of the Collective Agreement. For example, article XXVII is that section of our C.A., which explains our salaries and scholarships.

Bargaining: The process by which the “parties” (e.g. the TSSU and the Employer) come to a new Collective Agreement. Each party is supposed to come to the bargaining table with proposals to alter the agreement. We exchange views then, negotiate to come to an agreement. Often articles are “signed off” (signed by each party) as discussions are concluded. At the end of the process a new Collective Agreement is reached with a duration that determines when the next bargaining must occur.

Bargaining Unit Members: The “bargaining unit” consists of those employees of the employer currently employed and therefore covered by the original “certification” by the Labour Board. Usually this is limited to members working, on leave, or on a recall list. Only bargaining unit members can file a grievance, or vote to “strike” or “ratify” a collective agreement.

Collective Agreement (CA) (otherwise referred to as “contract”): Although often referred to as the Union’s Agreement, a CA is actually a binding legal contract between two parties – the Employer and the Union. The Union acts on behalf of all of its members in the bargaining unit, and the CA covers the terms and conditions of employment. One could consider it the rules governing the relationship between us and our bosses.

Employer The employer is the legal term for the entity which is responsible for employees. In the case of TSSU members, the employer is the Board of Governors of Simon Fraser University.

Employment Standards: The Employment Standards Act of BC sets out basic standards for wages, statutory holidays, vacation time, lay off, etc. for all workers. If the Collective Agreement does not have provisions that govern the particular right, then the Employment Standards Act will apply. In some cases the Act applies, even when the CA addresses the issue.

Essential Services: We are required to apply to have essential services set for SFU, prior to actually striking. This involves identifying the work at SFU that fits the definition of essential (which is very different than important work) to protect health and safety, etc. Most commonly at Universities this involves people who feed lab animals, people who keep boilers operating, etc. These levels are negotiated with the Employer and, failing agreement, can be finally settled by the LRB.

Final Offer Vote: At any time prior to settlement, the Employer can apply to force the Union to put their last offer to a vote. This is often used by Employers to undermine the Union and to suggest that it is somehow operating separate from its members. Final Offer votes have rarely if ever resulted in a Final Offer being accepted.

Grievance: A grievance is an assertion that the CA is not being followed properly. Although they may be filed by either party, almost all grievances are generated by the Union against the Employer, and allege that they have violated the agreement in some way. There is a formal process set out in the CA (Article X) for resolving these differences.

Housekeeping Items: These are changes to the CA that do not actually change the meaning or application of the language, but that fix typographical errors, or make the mutually agreed meaning clearer.

Job Action: A phrase often used to describe a form of striking that does not include picketing. Often more creative in its forms, it is intended to put pressure on the employer while limiting the impact on the public as much as possible.

Labour Relations Board (LRB): The LRB is the governing body over labour relations matters in the province. It consists of a Chair and several Vice Chairs who sit in judgment on matters arising under the Labour Relations Code of B.C. There is a very limited right of appeal beyond the Board to the Courts. In addition, the Board operates a Mediation Division which serves to help parties reach agreement.

Language: This is the actual wording of what either side proposes to go into the Collective Agreement. Language often goes through multiple permutations over the sessions at which it is discussed and the specifics in the language are what give the articles meaning. Small words like “and”, “or”, “shall” or “may” can have large implications on the articles as a whole so it is important to read and craft language carefully.

Letter/Memorandum of Agreement/Understanding (LO)/MOA/MOU): Letters of Agreement or Memorandums of Agreement are “side” agreements that, by their existence, form part of the Collective Agreement. In the bargaining of a new CA, the parties may have to agree to continue existing LOA’s or express their desire to discontinue an LOA. Equivalents (agreements to pay less than the “formula” for certain TA assignments), are considered agreements such as this. If notice is served to end these agreements, then they must be renegotiated if they are to continue in some form.

Limited Term (Sessional) Lecturer: A member of the SFU Faculty Association who has a Lecturer assignment with a term appointment of no more than five years.
Sessional Instructor: A Sessional Instructor is a TSSU bargaining unit employee who is appointed for a semester to teach a credit course. The appointment to teach a credit course normally requires some or all of the preparation of the course, the major responsibility for the presentation of course material, consultation with students and the assignment of grades.

Lockout: Is an act by an employer intended to pressure a union to come to an agreement and includes closing a place of employment, suspending work or a refusal to continue to employ a number of employees.

Mediation: Usually conducted by a seasoned arbitrator, mediation is a process by which a neutral third party assists the parties to come to agreement, or to narrow the issues. It is often used to avoid the necessity of Arbitration, or to settle a Collective Agreement. There are both “private” mediations and Labour Board (LRB) mediation possibilities. In bargaining, either party may make application for mediation through the LRB. Strikes and/or lockouts cannot occur while the application for mediation is being processed.

Monetary/Non-Monetary Bargaining Items: CA Language that governs things like postings, who gets priority for work, human rights, grievance procedures, etc. are non-monetary and usually discussed first at the bargaining table. Monetary items are benefits and wages that go to Union members through the Collective Agreement, and are most often discussed nearer to the end of the bargaining process.

Picketing: Picketing is a partial or complete stoppage of work. It is used to convince others not to go to work and to put the maximum amount of pressure on the employer possible. Other Unions in BC will not cross picket lines, and will not go to work when a legal picket line appears.

Protocol Agreement: At the onset of bargaining, both parties may decide on a protocol agreement that will be the guidelines of how bargaining will proceed. It can be items such as the frequency of meeting, the process of exchange and how each party will communicate with their principles. This agreement is more of a friendly arrangement than formal contact as the protocol is not enforceable at the BC Labour Relations Board.

Public Sector Employers’ Council (PSEC): The Provincial government formed this council to coordinate and control the Employers at the various bargaining tables in the provincial public sector, such as Health, Education, and Post-Secondary Education. The Council issues a “bargaining mandate” that guide Employers at the table.

Signed Off: When agreement is reached on a piece of language, the piece of paper upon which the agreed upon language is written is signed by each side. Once language has been signed off it no longer up for discussion and will appear in the next Collective Agreement.

Strike: A cessation of work, refusal to work, or continue to work by employees in combination or in concert or in accordance with a common understanding, or a slowdown or other concerted activity on the part of employees that is designed or does restrict or limit production or services. It is not necessary to picket to be on strike.

Strike Vote: A vote of the members of the bargaining unit must be held when a Union intends to take any strike action whatsoever. The vote is governed by the rules set out in the Labour Relations Code.

Strike Notice: At least seventy-two hours notice has to be served on the employer prior to commencing any form of job action or strike. It is not legally necessary to advise to the specifics of the actual action to be taken, just that strike action is coming.

Ratification Vote: When the Contract Committee has an agreement that they can recommend, the terms are put to the members in a ratification vote. If the majority of the bargaining unit members support the vote, then the Collective Agreement is finalized.

Rejection Vote: Unions can choose to take an Employer position to their members for rejection. This is most often done when a further pressure point is needed, and a rejection vote can make the wishes of the members clear.

Non-credit instructor: A Non-credit Instructor is a TSSU bargaining unit employee appointed to teach non-credit courses in the English Language and Culture Program and Interpretation and Translation Program.

The Table: Negotiating session where each side attempts to reach a compromise around each issue brought forward.

Teaching Assistant: A Teaching Assistant is a TSSU bargaining unit employee who is appointed for a semester to assist in tutorial and/or laboratory instruction and/or related matters.

Tutor Marker: A Tutor/Marker is a bargaining unit employee who is appointed for a semester to provide assistance with instruction and advice to students in a distance education credit course, to mark the assignments submitted by the students in the course and provide feedback to the students. A Tutor/Marker shall be responsible to the Course Supervisor.

Union Members: Membership in the Union is defined by the Union Constitution – which is voted on by the members. Therefore it is possible to be a Union member and not currently be in the bargaining unit. As well, some unions represent multiple bargaining units. TSSU has many Union members that are not currently bargaining unit members as the TSSU’s constitution defines membership as extending two semesters beyond your last teaching appointment.

WorkSafe BC (WCB): WorkSafe (otherwise known as WCB), is the body in BC legally responsible to regulate and enforce health and safety standards in the province of BC. Under the WorkSafe Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, for instance, all workers in BC have the right to refuse to do work that could endanger themselves or another person. There is a process (regulation 3.12) to follow in this case. There are also regulations governing all workplace hazards, protection from chemical exposures, blood borne pathogens etc.

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