Report: CLC Winter School, Collective Bargaining Level 1

Cheers to Crystal Warner, President of PSAC/CEIU Local 20974 (Immigration and Refugee Board), for this report from the Canadian Labour Congress Winter School.

I was able to attend week three of CLC Winter School this year to learn about the collective bargaining (CB) process. As an overview of the course itself, we students spent three days learning about the CB process, and the last two days applying it. We were blessed with two amazing instructors who were Joey Hartman and Dan Klassen – both union and community activists in BC.

In the first few days, some of the subjects covered included a basic introduction to the factors and parties to the CB process. We were educated on the legal framework, and common vocabulary used at the table. We also spent a good portion of time on union surveys and how to get input from the membership. Before entering into role play, our group covered some of the more complex aspects of the process, such as costing.

The last two days of this learning experience were a role-play. I was assigned to play the role of private sector management. Students were given a collective agreement, a list of priorities, some starting costing, and a blurb on who our company was. The other side of the table, the union, was given the same information as it related to them. The first day both sides met and delivered their priorities to each other, both in writing and through a presentation.

I was lucky to be in a group with experienced bargainers from both public and private sector unions. We worked our way through meals and well into the evening to eagerly prepare our proposal to the union – which included extending the times in which over time is paid (beginning at the 8th hour of work, instead of at the 7.5 hour mark), a most contentious issue for our round of bargaining.

Our final day of class was spent mainly at the bargaining table. With Joey acting as a hands off facilitator, we went through the changes with the ‘union’ and signed off on several clauses. However, we ran out of time and were unable to fully agree on the overtime issue, with the union threatening to call a strike vote over it.  My main role during this role-play process was to write language for the collective agreement (i.e. create the changes which would be, and were, signed off on) and to provide information for the speaker – for example, when the other side would request rationale for the changing of certain language, I would provide the speaker with a memo of how we wanted the language changed specifically, and short bullet point rationale for our interests (to be kept private) and speaking notes to provide the other side with.

I was voted worst poker face out of my class, as I found it difficult sometimes to play my role as private sector management – especially as most of the language I was able (thanks to my background in law) to get the union to sign off on had repercussions they often failed to recognize (as an example, we re-wrote sick leave opting by expanding the language, but making it less enforceable – using vague words like ‘can’ instead of ‘shall’ and defining how it can be used, eliminating several of the pre-existing options). Joey suggested I work on this aspect as I often tend to let my emotions show through on my face unconsciously – and I SHALL.

Aside from the practical aspects of the CB process, the instructors focused on other aspects of supporting CB in our workplace. We talked about the pros and cons of signing longer collective agreements, about strike votes and members who ‘cross the line.’ We heard stories around the group of people who’ve experienced different situations and learned from each other. As the youngest member of the group, I felt the need to speak out about the lack of job opportunities and need to strengthen language for term/casual employees, many of whom are young workers. I also spoke, I think passionately, about the need for better succession planning in our unions, and the importance of mentorship being a two way street.

We learned about delay tactics, the need for inclusive language for our LGBT community, how a % based increases in wage spread the gap (across the board increases being better for women and low paid workers), and best practices of note taking.

Beyond everything I’ve reported, I would also like to outline what I feel were specific benefits to my labour activism for participating. This wasn’t just an opportunity to network – this was an opportunity to take the temperature of the labour movement beyond the walls of the federal public service and create unity with the broader labour movement. For myself, I recognized the importance of building on our solidarity, and this means I will now be attending Vancouver Labour District meetings on behalf of the PSAC Vancouver Area Council. I also learned a variety of new and progressive ways to communicate to the members and engage them. The other side of this was educating some of the private sector unions on the rationale behind some of our PSAC priorities. At the start of the week I spoke about our sick leave, only to be met with a lot of criticism from unions who didn’t have ‘carry over’ abilities in their own collective agreements. However, by the end of the week, I am happy to report they’d understood what we’ve given up over the years for this ‘insurance policy’, we’d had multiple discussions on the need to avoid a ‘race to the bottom,’ and promises were given about rallying their locals to support us on the picket line should we get to that!

I want to say thank you to the PSAC and to CEIU for its contribution to the furthering of my education in the CB process. I was able to attend the PSAC bargaining conference last week with a deeper understanding of the process, and I look forward to taking Level II at next year’s Winter School. I hope the PSAC/CEIU will consider me a worthy investment, as I do intend on running for the bargaining team for the PA group in the next round, following more education and training.

Yours in Solidarity,

Crystal Warner, Local President, CEIU 20974