Receiving notice to bargain can be overwhelming for an employer, especially if it is to negotiate a first collective agreement. It is important to understand key steps in the process in order to be prepared to achieve the best outcome for your business.
Do not feel rushed
There is no need to immediately schedule bargaining sessions once you receive notice to bargain. The obligation is to commence bargaining within a reasonable time frame such that the employer is not interfering with the union’s right to collective bargaining. Understandably, it could take up to a few months to align schedules of the bargaining teams on both sides and to ensure adequate time for preparation.
Advance preparation is key
The following are some key steps in preparing for collective bargaining:
- Identify the bargaining team: As an employer, you should ensure the bargaining team is identified in advance with clear roles and responsibilities defined. The chief negotiator is generally a labour lawyer but can also be an experienced labour relations professional internally. The bargaining team should also include a member of the employer familiar with finance to analyze monetary proposals, as well as members of senior management from areas such as human resources and operations with authority to bind the company and provide clear direction to the chief negotiator.
- Consider each monetary and non-monetary article of the collective agreement: To inform negotiations when they begin, it can be helpful for the bargaining team to review each article, or groups of articles, of the collective agreement in advance and identify them, for example, as follows:
(1) not important and willing to take union’s proposal (within reason);
(2) nice to keep as is, but not imperative;
(3) important to the employer and may cause an impasse; and
(4) willing to strike if employer’s proposal not accepted.
Having these internal discussions in advance can help expedite bargaining once it begins and ensure your bargaining team is on the same page. This will also allow your bargaining team to maintain focus on the union’s proposals and quickly strategize which proposals to package and concede to achieve the best outcome.
This analysis may look different for a first collective agreement, however, the chief negotiator can assist in identifying common clauses that will most certainly form part of the collective agreement.
When bargaining begins, it is important to take the time to consider each of the union’s proposals carefully. This can be guided by the ranking process described above.
Each article of the collective agreement has legal implications and the wording should be clear to align with the mutual understanding of both sides. Poorly drafted provisions can lead to later confusion and costly arbitration for something that could have been quickly clarified during bargaining. Once the language is agreed to in the executed version of the collective agreement, it can be hard to change if unfavourable to one side, and the other will likely have to give something up in return.
Given the complexity of collective bargaining and the intersection between substantive knowledge of labour law and advanced negotiation, we recommend engaging a labour lawyer to assist with collective bargaining.
At SpringLaw, we would be happy to assist, whether acting as your company’s chief negotiator or answering your questions throughout the process. Be sure to get in touch.