Collective Agreement Terminology

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” come to a new Collective Agreement. Each party is supposed to come to the bargaining table with proposals to alter the agreement, 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”): A CA is actually a binding legal contract between two parties–the Employer and the Union–although often incorrectly referred to as a “Union Agreement.” The CA covers the terms and conditions of employment and governs the relationship between members and their bosses. The Union enforces the CA on behalf of all of its members in the bargaining unit.


Employer: ”Employer” is the legal term for the entity 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 ( wages, statutory holidays, vacation time, lay off) 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 different from significant work) to protect the health, safety, or lives of people or animals. At SFU, this has previously included the work of people who feed lab animals, or keep necessary infrastructure such as the boiler operating. Essential services levels are negotiated with the Employer and, failing agreement, can be finally settled by the Labour Relations Board (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 separately 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 being violated, and may be filed by either party, though most grievances are filed by the Union against the Employer. Article X in the CA sets out the formal process for resolving these differences.

Housekeeping Items: changes to the CA that do not actually change the meaning or application of the language, but that fix typographical errors, or state mutually agreed upon meaning more clearly.

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 governs 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, with a subsequent limited right of appeal to the Courts. The Board also operates a Mediation Division which can help parties reach agreement.

Language: This is the actual wording (“contract language”) of what either side proposes to go into the Collective Agreement. “Language” sees many changes over the time it is discussed: Small words like “and,” “or,” “shall,” or “may” can have large implications on the articles as a whole, so it is crucial to read and to craft language carefully.

Letter/Memorandum of Agreement/Understanding (LOA/LOU/MOA/MOU–different names for the same thing): “side” agreements that, by their existence, form part of the Collective Agreement. In the bargaining of a new CA, the parties may agree to continue or discontinue existing LOAs, or write the contents into the body of the CA. Equivalents (agreements to pay differently than the “formula” for certain TA assignments), are such agreements. If proper notice is served to bargaining to end these agreements, they must be renegotiated to continue in some form.

Limited Term Lecturer: A member of the SFU Faculty Association who has a Lecturer assignment with a term appointment of no more than five years.As opposed to:

Sessional Lecturer: A non-TSSU member appointed as a Lecturer.

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: an act by an employer intended to pressure a union to come to an agreement, including closing a place of employment, suspending work, or refusing to continue to employ a number of employees. An employer can conduct a partial lockout, for example telling teachers to teach without preparation, and then cut their pay by some arbitrary amount.

Mediation: Mediation is a process by which a neutral third party, usually a seasoned arbitrator, assists the parties to narrow the issues or come to agreement to avoid the necessity of Arbitration, or to settle a Collective Agreement. During bargaining, either party may make application through the Labour Board (LRB) for “private” or LRB mediation, and strikes and/or lockouts cannot occur while the mediator is involved.

Monetary/Non-Monetary Bargaining Items: Non-monetary CA Language governs things like postings, who gets priority for work, human rights, grievance procedures, etc and usually comprises the first items discussed at the bargaining table. Monetary items, benefits and wages provided by the Collective Agreement, are most often discussed later in the process. One reason for this is that they tend to overtake the non-monetary issues once discussed.

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.

Picketing: Picketing partially or completely stops work, and is used to convince others not to go to work and to put the maximum amount of pressure on the employer in the most visible way possible. Unions members in BC will not cross others’ picket lines, and will not work when a legal picket line appears.

Protocol Agreement: At the onset of bargaining, both parties may decide on a protocol agreement that governs bargaining: the frequency of meeting, the process of exchange, and how each party will communicate with their principles.

Public Sector Employers’ Council (PSEC): The Provincial Government formed this council to coordinate and control the Employers at the various bargaining tables in Provincial public sectors such as Health, Education, and Post-Secondary Education. The Council issues a “bargaining mandate” that ostensibly limits Employers ability to agree to monetary and non-monetary items, as the Provincial Government sees fit.

Ratification Vote: When the Contract Committee has a tentative agreement that they can recommend, the terms are put to TSSU members and the SFU Board of Governors for ratification. If a majority of the bargaining unit members (and a majority of the members of the Board of Governors) support the tentative agreement, 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 explicit.

Signed Off: When agreement is reached on a piece of language, each side signs the piece of paper upon which the agreed upon language is written (the “signing sheet”). Once language has been signed off it (errors and omissions excluded) is no longer open for discussion, and will appear in the next Collective Agreement as written.

Strike: A cessation or slowdown of work by employees, in combination, in concert, or in accordance with a common understanding, designed to restrict or limit production or services. Striking does not necessarily involve picketing, but is most commonly used to denote that.

Strike Notice: The union must serve at least seventy-two hours notice to the employer prior to commencing any form of job action or strike. It is not legally necessary to advise as to the specifics of the actual action to be taken, just that strike action is coming.

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. The TSSU also holds a vote on whether or not to hold a strike vote.

Strike Policy: A policy developed by the union membership that outlines the roles, decision making and responsibilities during a strike. More details about TSSU’s policy are attached.

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 to provide feedback to the students. A Tutor/Marker shall be responsible to the Course Supervisor.

Union Members: The Union Constitution, voted on by the members, defines Union Membership, and a Union member may not be currently in the bargaining unit: TSSU has many Union members not currently in the bargaining unit because the TSSU’s constitution defines membership as extending two semesters beyond the last teaching appointment. Some other unions represent a number of bargaining units, but TSSU represents only one.

WorkSafe BC (WCB): WorkSafe (formerly, and still by some people, known as the Workers’ Compensation Board, or WCB), is the BC Provincial agency legally responsible for regulating and enforcing health and safety standards. Under the WorkSafe Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (regulation 3.12), for instance, all workers in BC have the right to a process to refuse to do work that could endanger themselves or another person. Other regulations govern all workplace hazards, protection from chemical exposures, and blood borne pathogens, for example.