What Happens When Bargaining Reaches Impasse?

At AUFA’s AGM on November 29, there was discussion about the possibility that the current round of collective bargaining will reach an impasse, due to AU’s insistence on concessions. A recurring question concerns what will happen if AU and AUFA cannot come to an agreement at the bargaining table.

If one or both sides conclude that no further progress at the table is likely to be made, there are several options:

1.   Both parties can agree to enter voluntary mediation, where a mediator helps the parties to seek resolution.

2.   Both parties can agree to send the dispute to arbitration to have it resolved by a neutral third party. It is worth noting that AU declined to do this in their current negotiations with AUPE.

3.   Either party can request that the Labour Board hold a proposal vote. If the employer sought a proposal vote, AUFA’s members would be polled by the Labour Board to determine whether they wish to accept AU’s current proposal.

4.   Either party can commence a process that may lead to a work stoppage.

This process consists of five steps, which must be completed prior to a work stoppage:

1.   Essential services agreement (ESA): The parties must agree which union members will continue to provide services essential to ensuring the life, health and safety of others and public order. This agreement precludes the employer from hiring replacement workers. On November 29, AUFA formally notified AU that we wish to commence negotiating an ESA.

2.   Formal Mediation: Upon application of either party, the government appoints a mediator who works with the parties to try to fashion an agreeable settlement. If the mediator makes a recommendation, the parties vote on it. If both sides accept the recommendation, then it becomes the new collective agreement.

3.   Cooling-Off Period: If no agreement is reached during mediation, there is a mandatory cooling-off period of at least 14 days. During this time, the parties can continue negotiations.

4.   Strike Vote/Lockout Poll: After the cooling-off period, the union may apply to the Labour Board for a supervised vote to authorize strike action. Similarly, the employer may apply to the Labour Board for a supervised lockout poll to authorize lockout action.

5.   Notice of Strike or Lockout: Once one (or both) party has secured authorization (i.e., a majority vote) to strike or lockout, it may serve 72-hours notice on the other party that a work stoppage will commence.

At any time during this process, the parties can conclude a new collective agreement.

 Bob Barnetson