What is collective bargaining? Why is it important?
Collective bargaining is the process of which a collective agreement is negotiated. A collective agreement is a legally binding document that outlines employee responsibilities and rights. Everything from holidays, to workload limits, to pay and compensation is outlined in the CA. Collective bargaining is important because it is the primary avenue to get increases in pay for your work, better workplace protections, and strengthen your rights as workers. Bargaining is between two negotiating teams, one for the employer, and one for the union. These teams are “at the bargaining table”.
We bargain collectively (rather than each individual negotiating their own contract) because there is power in numbers and because having a collective contract for all members promotes equity across the workforce.
What is impasse?
In bargaining, there may be items where the parties are unable to reach an agreement. If one of the parties feels as though an agreement will not be made with further negotiations, they can declare impasse on that item.
Throughout bargaining, as parties review their priorities with a focus on achieving the best deal for those they represent, either party may revisit items on which they have previously declared impasse. However, there may come a point where one party believes the two sides are too far apart their resolve their differences through bargaining. At this point, they may seek the help of a third party mediator to facilitate negotiations.
What is mediation?
Mediation is a step in the bargaining process in Alberta that brings a neutral third party to the bargaining table to help facilitate an agreement if normal bargaining has broken down. This can be due to impasse reached by either party. Mediation is also important because it is the first step in collective action such as a strike.
What is a strike?
A strike is any process where unionized employee’s withhold labour. This could mean a total cessation of work involved with your TA or RA contracts, or it could mean that some groups of graduate assistants withhold some of their work together at predetermined times. However, because we are also students that pay tuition, this does not mean your academic work or studies stops.
A strike can only occur if AEGS (only those with an active contract at the time of the vote) vote in favour of one.
Normally during a strike, there will be picket lines, protests, and other actions to emphasize how important our work as AEGS is, and to bring emphasis to the issues we face and what our desires are in bargaining. In the case of a complete cessation of work, PSAC provides strike pay for those on the picket lines.
Why can’t I strike now?
The Alberta Labour Relations Code outlines the rules and regulations of trade unions in the province, including the collective bargaining process. Under this code, there is a specific time when strikes can legally occur: after a successful strike vote that is held at least two weeks after the end of mediation (in the event that mediation fails).
Withholding labour outside of this time is called a “wildcat strike”. In Alberta, workers engaging in a wildcat strike can be heavily fined. If the union leadership advocates for a wildcat strike, both the union and the individual leaders can also be heavily fined.
What is an essential service?
Prior to filing for formal mediation (the step required before a strike vote can take place), public sector unions have an Essential Services Agreement (ESA) with the employer. The ESA identifies workers whose interruption of work would endanger the life, personal safety or health of the public or who are necessary to the maintenance and administration of the rule of law or public security.
In many healthcare fields, a large portion of workers are considered essential. In academic fields, faculty association ESA’s typically identify a handful of workers who oversee hazardous materials, provide direct counselling to at-risk clients, or are able to respond to emergency situations if they arise.
What is picket pay?
In the event of a strike, the GLU has access to the PSAC strike fund. This means that active members who participate in picket line shifts will receive a daily picket pay. The daily pay for these shifts will be between $53 and $75 (this number will need to be determined by a PSAC council given the irregular nature of graduate work). Strike leaders and captains may receive a higher daily pay.
All picket pay is non-taxable.