Collective Agreement and Bargaining Terminology (A-Z)

Been reading our updates, but don’t understand what a word means? Want to learn more about how your working conditions are decided? Read on!

Arbitration: When the parties have a disagreement on an issue, they can seek an outside decision on their respective positions. Arbitration is the binding “court” of labour relations, and consists of a neutral third party. Often arbitrations are conducted by a single arbitrator, but may include three in certain circumstances – one appointed by Employer and Union, with a third arbitrator mutually agreed. 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 proposes to alter the agreement during negotiations. We exchange proposals, discuss them, and negotiate to reach agreement. Often articles are “signed off” (signed by each party) as discussions are concluded. Once this is complete, a new Collective Agreement will be ratified or rejected by both parties. The duration of the contract determines when the next bargaining round will occur.

Bargaining Unit: 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.

BC Federation of Labour (BC Fed): An affiliation of labour unions in British Columbia. The BC Fed represents over 500,000 workers and is a member of the Canadian Labour Congress. (more info:

Collective Agreement (CA) (otherwise referred to as “contract”): Although often referred to as a Union Agreement, a CA is actually a binding legal contract between two parties – SFU Administration (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 that hires employees (in the private sector, a business; for non-profits, this is often a Board of Directors). In the case of TSSU members, the employer is the Board of Governors of Simon Fraser University. The Board of Governor’s delegates negotiations through the Administration of SFU to a Bargaining Committee led by Human Resources personnel.

Equivalencies – Agreements to pay less or more than the standard for certain TA assignments. In the Sociology/Anthropology and Geography departments, these result in less pay to our members. Removing these unfair equivalencies from our CA is one of the Contract Committee’s main goals in this round of negotiations.

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: The Employer is required to apply to have essential services levels 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 a handful of people to feed lab animals, and keep boilers operating, and other such tasks which would result in serious harm or possible death if not maintained. 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: (bargaining slang) 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.

Impasse: During bargaining, “impasse” happens when both parties have presented their proposals and no agreement has been reached. After impasse, the Union can take a strike vote.

Job Action: A phrase often used to describe a form of striking that usually doesn’t involve picketing, job action is technically any collective action which affects the labour demanded by the employer. Job Action can range from refusing overtime to putting stickers on assignments or forming picket lines. At TSSU, job action is often more creative than picketing, because we teach the public. TSSU has often chosen to tactics to maximize pressure on the employer while limiting the impact on students and the community.

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: (bargaining slang) 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. Contract language needs to be enforceable, otherwise an Employer might not keep the agreement.

Letter/Memorandum of Agreement/Understanding (LO)/MOA/MOU): Letters of Agreement or Memorandums of Agreement are “side” agreements to our Collective Agreement. In the bargaining of a new CA, the parties may agree to continue existing LOA’s or express their desire to discontinue an LOA. “Equivalencies” (agreements to pay less or more than the “formula” for certain TA assignments), are one example of 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. The difference between a letter and the Collective Agreement relates to when they’re signed and how they expire; they are still legally binding.

Limited Term Lecturer (LTL): A member of the SFU Faculty Association has a Lecturer assignment of a fixed duration, rather than an indeterminate duration. While these positions are within the Faculty Association, these workers share many of the same issues of precarity as Sessional Instructors. Many long-serving Sessional Instructors have held an LTL at some point during their time working for SFU. In the 2014-2015 round of bargaining, TSSU struck for and successfully won a provision for Sessional Instructors to be earn an offer of an at least a one-year Limited Lectureship after teaching 16 courses over 4 years.

Lockout: Is an act by an employer intended to pressure a union to come to an agreement. A lockout may include 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 Relations 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 through the LRB.

Monetary/Non-Monetary Bargaining Items: Contract language that governs things like postings, who gets priority for work, human rights, grievance procedures, etc. are non-monetary (do not provide wages or compensation to members). These are 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.

Non-credit instructor: A Non-credit Instructor teaches courses that do not count toward a post-secondary degree. TSSU’s current bargaining unit includes instructors appointed to teach non-credit courses in the English Language and Culture Program and Interpretation and Translation Programs.

Picketing: Picketing is a partial or complete stoppage of work. It is used to convince others not to go to work, and often is used to motivate an employer to negotiate. By agreement of all the Unions in the BC Federation of Labour, other Union members in BC will not cross picket lines, and will not go to work when a legal picket line appears. The right to not cross picket lines is protected for all workers in BC, including non-unionized workers.

Proposals: Proposals and Counter-proposals are the terms used in bargaining for some change that either the Employer or the Union would like to make the Collective Agreement, and the response from the other side, respectively. For example, TSSU has a proposal that ELC/ITP instructors should receive the same benefits as other staff at SFU. For example, the Employer could then have a counter-proposal in response that these instructors can receive the same sick leave as other staff at SFU, but not other benefits like pension, tuition waiver, professional development, etc.

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.

Ratification Vote: During bargaining, the terms offered by the Employer may be 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. Unions sometimes choose to take an Employer’s offer to their members for rejection, especially when the Employer is not negotiating. A rejection vote can make the wishes of the members clear.

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.

Sessional Lecturer: A Sessional Lecturer is an SFU employee who, in addition to their full-time duties, is assigned to assist with, or prepare and deliver, a course at SFU. These workers are not TSSU members. For more information, see:

Signed Off: When agreement is reached on a proposed change to the CA, 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 pending ratification.

Strike: A cessation of work or refusal to work, with a common purpose. This could include a slowdown or other concerted activity on the part of workers that is designed to restrict or limit production or services. It is not necessary to picket to be on strike. Also see: job action.

Strike Notice: the Union must give 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 the specifics of the action to be taken, just that strike action is coming.

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 available from the union office.

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

The Table: (bargaining slang) 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 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 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 is responsible to the Course Supervisor

Union Member: Membership in the Union is defined by the Union Bylaws which defines membership as extending two semesters beyond your last teaching appointment. Therefore it is possible to be a Union member and not currently be in the “bargaining unit” because you are not actively employed. This definition of membership helps ensure that our members who may only work 1 or 2 of the semesters each academic year are able to maintain connection to and democratic participation in their Union.

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, and there is a process to follow in this case (regulation 3.12). There are also regulations governing all workplace hazards, protection from chemical exposures, blood borne pathogens etc.