Monday, 3 December 2007

Saskatchewan University Workers Reach Tentative Settlement

While I am pleased that the members of CUPE 1975 at the Universities of Regina and Saskatchewan have achieved a tentative agreement and have ended their strike - I have some thoughts about how that agreement came to pass. CUPE's web-site article about the final bargaining session facilitated by provincial conciliator Doug Forseth is linked here.

The two outstanding issues that precipitated the strike have been referred to "binding arbitration". Previously, CUPE had offered to end the strike by referring these same two issues to "non-binding mediation" - an offer that was rejected by the University leadership.

The following excerpt from the article speaks volumes:

"It's not the resolution we wanted, but the government's threat of back-to-work legislation meant 'arbitration' was the only topic of discussion at the conciliation table," says CUPE 1975 bargaining chair Brad McKaig. "Since both employers appeared to prefer legislation to negotiation, it had a huge influence on what we could achieve at the table."

Premier Brad Wall told the media on Thursday the government would end the strike through back-to-work legislation if no agreement was reached in concilation talks, which resumed Friday.

"Given the threat of government intervention, our only option was to influence how arbitration would proceed, not whether it would proceed," says McKaig.
So how did all of this come to pass? I think that the President of the U of S - probably called (former University of Saskatchewan employee) the new Minister in charge of the labour portfolio (Rob Norris) and asked for the government to exert the heavy hand and introduce the threat of legislation. Plain and simple.

I also think that the new Minister responded to the request, and the Premier issued the "threat".

Now, just to put things in perspective - during the week prior to CUPE 1975 voting on the employers "so-called final offer", I placed a call to the new Minister and offered (through his office) to meet with him to discuss the matter, and offered to provide labour's perspective. I'm still waiting to hear back from Mr. Norris in this regard. Somehow, I don't think he's interested in anything workers or their representatives have to say about anything.

I guess that's what the new Minister meant when he said to reporters following his appointment that the government would be "Rebalancing the relationship with labour". And that's what the new Premier meant when he said during the election campaign that he would be "Reaching out to labour".


Richard_Cranium said...

Non binding arbritration is useless, as if anyone doesnt like the result they just say no. I would rather see them stay walking as opposed to non binding arbitration.

Larry Hubich said...

That's not the point Richard. If CUPE would have proposed "binding arbitration" to settle the matter the Universities would have rejected it. Otherwise, they (the universities) would have offered it back as a solution, when CUPE offered "mediation".

But, the arrogance of the U of S (in particular) has clearly revealed itself. The leadership and management of the U of S thought the CUPE members would accept the "error laden final offer". In fact, the President engaged in a desperate attempt to go around the "legal bargaining unit" and appeal directly to the workers.

I've never seen a more pathetic, arrogant and condescending letter in my life.

The workers resoundingly rejected the universities union busting efforts.

What do you think happened next? Did they then propose "binding arbitration as a solution?" NO. They went back to conciliation hiding behind the threat of legislation - which they asked for.

You don't need to be a "rocket scientist" to figure this one out.

Finally, anybody whose ever done any negotiating and/or bargaining will tell you that "non-binding mediation" can be just as effective and solution oriented as "binding arbitration". In fact, more so!

John Murney said...

Larry, I'm relieved the strike is over and it didn't come down to legislating an end to the labour dispute. I don't think my sanity could have taken another week of this, seriously.

berlynn said...

You can be sure this was all orchestrated to make Brad Wall look like the tough boy on Labour. So much for his spirit of co-operation, I guess.

Richard_Cranium said...

I agree Larry, given the current standards. However, if the laws were changed to allow for binding arbitration after negotitions reach certain stalemates then neither could consent or refuse binding arbitration. I dont know exactly what those parameters would like at the end of the day, but seems to be a more logical way to settle than simply walking out for a day/week/month.??

Larry Hubich said...


Given the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada on June 8, 2007 affirming that "Collective Bargaining Rights" are "Charter Rights" as defined under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms - I'm not so sure legislation to strip away a worker's right to strike would survive a charter challenge.

For more information and details on this topic see:

Mike The Greek said...


Why would you be so arrogant as to believe that you should be able to meet with the Minister of Labour about an on-going strike? This strike had nothing to do with you...

I believe that if you wanted to chat with the Minister about labour issues in general, that's fine. But you really have no business discussing an on-going dispute with him when you are not involved.

If there is a union strike on a private business, should the Chamber of Commerce ask for a meeting with the Minister regarding that strike? Absolutely not...

He was right in not returning your call.

Richard_Cranium said...

If you put it that way Larry of course not. HOwever, legislation would be quite easy to pass if it is approved by both labor and management.

Larry Hubich said...


I am not so sure, given the Supreme Court Decision, that a union can sign away a charter right of its members.

Many advance the argument that you can not contract out of a minimum standard, or sign away a human right. I believe a charter right falls into the same category.


You should stick to stuff you are knowledgeable about. You are letting your anger and hatred of unions get in the way.

Richard_Cranium said...

Larry, I do not submit that Collective Bargaing under a union umbrella should be eliminated. I agree that that should stay a right. However I do not have as much of a problem with disassociating the right of collective bargaining with the righ to strike. You can deal with the latter without jeopardizing the former. Yes have the union bargain on behalf of the members, but in the event a deal simply cannot be agreed to, then move to binding arbitration rather than a strike. Like you said in another thread, the number of strikes compared to the number of sucessful bargaining is small. Binding arbitration, in these few cases, is in my opinion simply an extension of collective bargaining carried out by an independent body as opposed to the union bargaining group.

Mike The Greek said...


This seems to be a common theme of yours and leftdog's. If you disagree with anything about unions, you hate them.

I'll tell you what I dislike, Larry.


You mention nothing about one union locking out another.

You deny that union brass intimidates union workers.

You claim that you are independent from the NDP.

I believe that union members are being mistreated, not by business as much as they are by union executives for their own political gain.

I believe in the collective bargaining process. I believe in the right to strike. I believe that with large workforces, a collective agreement is the best way to deal with contract issues.

I don't believe in union executive manilpulation of the rank and file.

And you ignore that...

That's what I believe.

Larry Hubich said...


The fact that workers have the ability to strike, and employers have the ability to lock-out is precisely the reason why most agreements are settled without a work stoppage. A negotiated settlement is the preferred route for both sides of the table.

To replace that process with one of mandatory binding arbitration would in my opinion result in every single bargaining ending up in the hands of a third party to determine. It makes getting to an impasse much easier - because instead of working out the tough issues you just hand it off to someone else to solve.

The only ones who benefit from that are the lawyers.

Having had experience with all of the foregoing processes, I can assure you that a negotiated or mediated settlement is far superior to an arbitrated one - because the parties fashion the final result - not someone detached from the parties.