What is bargaining?

Collective bargaining is one process through which our members can improve their working conditions by limiting the rights of their bosses and increasing the pay and benefits available to them. Bargaining is an expression of collective power which puts employees, who otherwise have limited power in the workplace, in at least a similar ballpark to the employer. At its core bargaining involves two parties putting forward proposals to change the Collective Agreement and using their relative power to pressure the other side to agree, or find mutually agreeable ground in between the proposals.

How does bargaining work?

The parties to the collective agreement, the Union and the Board of Governors, establish and empower committees who develop proposals, meet to discuss them, and negotiate a Collective Agreement. Past experience at SFU has shown that the employer does not negotiate until forced to by pressure from outside of the bargaining table. That pressure achieves agreements.

The bargaining process typically begins with the parties discussing “non-monetary proposals” which change the collective agreement but do not add a direct monetary cost (eg. creating a central posting system), and both sides arguing their positions and potentially modifying them. Once the parties have canvassed non-monetary items, it is customary to start discussing monetary items, such as wage and benefit improvements.

Bargaining to Job Action

Once bargaining has reached an impasse, that is, when all monetary and non-monetary proposals have been discussed and no agreement has been reached, then the Union can choose to take a strike vote. A positive strike vote gives the Union members the right to serve strike notice and to begin job action. Job action is any collective action which affects the labour demanded by the employer; it can range from refusing overtime to putting stickers on assignments or forming picket lines. TSSU has a strike policy which outlines the decision-making process in a strike, and the use of the strike fund.  

In the time leading up to job action and during job action, it is critical that members know what they’re fighting for and are prepared to take collective action to achieve. During this period, the focus of the Union has to be on talking to members, inoculating them against the employer, empowering them to fight for the changes to the Collective Agreement we need.